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Do you ever wonder what lies beyond the star-studded night sky?


I wonder what’s out there.

 

As a kid, for as long as substantive memory serves, I was always fascinated by the stars; always wondered what was out there. Introverted and sufficiently insecure, I developed a certain ‘connection’ with the‘heavens’, since (I believed) earthly affiliations were unsatisfactory and largely uncomfortable (ergo my introversion). Small wonder, I carried this curiosity of all things extraterrestrial into high school where, as a most natural progression, I found the study of geography a most refreshing activity. It was here I first learned of our illustrious Milky Way galaxy and our immediate solar system with its compliment of diverse planetary bodies. I first learned of the awesomeness of light, as (credibly) the fastest entity in the entire universe (clocking in at an unbelievable 186,000 miles a second [approximately]), in one of these classes. I learned it took light, mind boggling speed regardless, an unbelievable 8 minutes to traverse the distance from the sun to the earth (about 150,000,000 km). Alternatively rendered: each time you attempt a gaze at the boisterous sun, what you see is 8 minutes, 20 seconds old. I learned of the solar and lunar cycles, earth’s axis and rotation in a fixed orbit around the sun, the yearly equinoxes and solstices, and so much more‘amazing’ stuff (some of which I will further enumerate in a few).

 

Smaller wonder still, I spent countless hours ‘studying’ (no cursory reading here) astronomy books at the school library back in my university years (more devotional time than the actual major I dare say). When you consider some of the amazing ‘secrets’ of the universe, perhaps you may begin to ‘wonder’ as I have. In my ‘travels’ through astronomy literature and other sources, I have come across quite a few incredible facts I’d like to share. To ease understanding, I have categorized these as follows:

 

SIZE

Take our resident star for instance – the sun. A medium sized star, the sun is large enough to fit 1.3 million earth into. The only reason it appears a little less daunting is large that of its distance away from earth. Compared to some of the more impressively massive stars out there, the sun – our sun – is quite the toddler. Take ‘Eta Carina’ for instance,5 million times as massive as our sun…or ‘Betelgeuse’, 300 times larger than Eta Carina. These sizes often cannot be comprehended by the human mind…but they get larger still. Our sun is just one of close to 400 billion stars in our galaxy, and our galaxy (the ‘milky way’) is one of over 100 billion others so far discovered in the ‘known universe’. In comparison earth, our home is infinitesimal.

 

 

DISTANCE  

Just as mind boggling are the distances involved. Since they are prodigious, mere miles or kilometers cannot be used as effective measures. The‘light year’, on the other hand, more closely represents these incredible distances. A light year is the distance light travels in one year; approximately 9.5 trillion km. Imagine driving a car at a steady speed of 100km/h….it would take you 11 million years to traverse the distance equivalent to one light year. Yet, some of the closest stars to the sun are thousands of light years away. To cross from one end of our galaxy - the Milky Way - to the other, it would take light 100,000 years. Some galaxies are determined to be as far as several billion light years away. Even the eminent ‘light year’ cowers at such unbelievable distances. Again, immersed in this great pool of celestial giants, the earth is unrecognizable.

 

OTHER COOL STUFF

Imagine attempting to scoop up a spoonful of dirt and find the seemingly easy task insurmountable. That’s probably because that spoonful weighs more than 600 million elephants. That would be the case if your ‘spoonful’ came from a Quasar (or neutron star). These incredible celestial objects are the remnants of massive stars that went ‘supernova’ (this happens when a star uses up its hydrogen and helium store and implodes as well as explodes). Since much of the former star’s mass is now crammed into one small diameter, the densities become unimaginable.

 

How about those elusive ‘Pulsars’. These are neutron stars that spin around their axes rapidly and produce beams of light, or ‘pulses’ as they do so – much like lighthouses. Incredibly, some of these massive objects spin at up to 600 times a second. Impressive, considering they mostly dwarf our earth in size.

 

And those mysterious ‘Black Holes’? These are hypothesized to be what remains of the demise of super-massive stars after a particularly violent supernova. The gravitational pull by the core of the dying star is thought to be so immense as to cause everything in and around the star to implode into a so-called ‘singularity’…and from this ‘singularity’ even light cannot escape.

 

Comets, Meteorites, Asteroids and so much more. The ‘secretes’ of the universe are a plethora that cannot be surmised in this brief presentation.

 

Fact is, the universe is far too large for any concise cataloging. It is the reason astronomers and astrophysicists find their work is only just beginning.

 

I wonder……..

 

….if there are as many stars as and galaxies as enumerated above, with their attendant planetary bodies (as in our solar system), can we not venture that there be intelligent life somewhere out there? Without needing a Drake formula (which purportedly calculates the number of planets with intelligent, communicative life), can one not simply rationalize this to be most probable; that ‘someone’ really is out there? With innumerable planets contained within our galaxy alone, this conclusion seems hardly farfetched. The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) guys haven’t found ‘anyone’ yet (understandable, given the sizes and distances), but you can be certain they will keep searching…..because like me, they wonder.

 

Perhaps………the next time you look up at the sky, at the stars…you will wonder as I do. At the very least, you might appreciate how awesome our universe is an ‘oh’ how utterly humbling (considering the facts) this can be.

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