What’s an Astropotamus?

I am an Astropotamus.  A time traveler.  I can move back in forth in time by seconds or by millions or even billions of years.  All within a blink of an eye.  And all while standing perfectly still.  How do I do this?  It has something to do with light.

If a photon (traveling at the speed of light) leaves the surface of our sun, it reaches the surface of our planet just over eight minutes later.  It takes about 240 more minutes for that photon to make it to Neptune, the edge of our planetary system (since Pluto is no longer a planet).  Four years and three months later, give or take a week, it will fly by the surface of the nearest sun to ours, Proxima Centauri.  It will take about 75,000 years to get to the other edge of our galaxy, and about 78,890,000,000,000 seconds more to make it to the edge of our nearest galactic neighbor, M31, the Andromeda Galaxy (let’s ignore the Magellanic Clouds).

Conversely, if a photon leaves the surface of a star in the Andromeda Galaxy, it will take 2.5 million years to get to my retina so that I can see it.  That means that when I look at the nearest galaxy I see it as it was two and a half million years ago, and they’re looking at us as we were at the beginning of the Pleistocene, when Homo habilis was first banging basalt rocks against quartz to make their version of the Slap Chop back in Olduvai Gorge.

There are estimated to be hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, and the farthest one away is about 32 billion light years.  Given the expansion of the universe, that means it was formed pretty close to when the universe was just started, so looking at it gives us a look at what the universe was like 13.4 billion years ago.  Most likely, this most distant galaxy is nothing but remnant radiation absorbed by some black hole a few billion years ago.  But we’ll never know because we don’t live long enough to see 13.4 billion years into the future, when its light from “now” will be hitting our retinas “then.”

So what does this have to do with an Astropotamus?  By peering at the skies above, taking pictures, making drawings, and paying attention to what’s in the universe, an Astropotamus is able to move through space and time and peer into the past.  Sometimes he can get a glimpse of the future, as well.

This web site is where this Astropotamus posts his images, drawings, and details of his travels through universe, using a Time Machine that looks a lot like a big orange telescope.