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Weekend thoughts: On Comparisons, Magnitudes, and Stars

Courtesy of Kevin Heider @ LightBuckets via Wikipedia CommonsWhen astronomer Hipparchus first began grading the brightness of celestial objects he was beginning quantify the billions of stars in our sky. This is no small task, but one that yields a surprising amount information considering the closest comparison to our own Sun is 93 million miles away. In fact, rather than comparing these 2 dramatic examples, most data points, stars, are mere dots against an endless black backdrop. Distinguishing each star is now called Apparent Magnitude and results in 2 key properties, temperature and size, that can be used to compare stars against one another.

Back on Earth, inviting comparison is a tricky exercise increasing in it's own logarithmic scale (of sorts) whether comparing one email template to another, one website to another, or ourselves to others. Often comparison is an endless exercise that encourages a near continual cycle of reinterpretation rather than a more dispassionate breakdown of metrics.

But there is something encouraging about Apparent Magnitude, quantifying things that seem so distant, so far out of reach, measurable only in varying spectrums of light, and, though varying wildly in factors, are brought into an understandable scale. What are you trying to quantify? Maybe something that seems unquantifiable but may have some simple properties if perception is given enough distance.

(Image Courtesy of Kevin Heider @ LightBuckets via Wikipedia Commons)


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