Thinking Galactically

It’s that time of the year (at least here in Canada it is) when apartment buildings shut down their A/C and flip things over to heat. I was thankful that my building made the switch about a week ago because in late September it was freezing in here. But then (Murphy’s Law) wouldn’t you know it? Immediately afterward… a real hot spell arrived. 

So there I was a couple of nights ago, lying in bed and roasting. It was so uncomfortable. At about 3 a.m. I got up and went out to my balcony where there was at least a cool breeze.

The stars.

I was astounded at the amount of them – sparkling all around me. Anyone reading this has felt the same way, countless times, unless, and with all due respect, you are blind. They just seemed… different though, this one sleepless night. I kept gazing up, hoping to see a satellite whiz by, or maybe a falling star. But I saw neither. Just that sheet of silent (to us) radiance.

My mind, as it is wont to do, started being mindful.

I knew that perhaps one or two of those twinkling lights were one of our own planets. Mars, or Venus perhaps. But of course, the vast majority were stars – burning suns like our own, and all varying in size. 

But I started imagining – just think if you could go back to say – the time of Shakespeare. And you struck up a conversation with a few people milling about after a performance at the Globe Theater. You mention to one of them, as the stars blaze above the Thames – “You know, one day, humanity will set foot on that big one there, the moon.” Already, several of your friends would think you’ve had too much mead for one evening. But then you go on, “And not only that lads, but also – one day, just a few decades later, they will send a vehicle to rove about on one of those small shining dots you see there.”

Definitely, the next theater you should be sent to is the nuthouse – as far as they are concerned.

And yet – what the time-traveling “you” said there that night, turned out to be true.

And not only this, but we do not have to go that far back in time – even if any of our great-grandfathers had said such a thing in his youth, he would have been thought to be mentally deranged.

We have been to the moon. And right now there is a vehicle of ours, on Mars. In August of 2012, Voyager 1 (launched in 1977) exited our solar system and entered interstellar space. On December 18th of 2021, the James Webb Telescope is scheduled to launch from French Guiana and promises to revolutionize our understanding of the universe. It is a $10 billion dollar project and many times more powerful than the Hubble Telescope.

Out on my balcony, I began to wonder – how many stars are visible to the naked eye?

It turns out that the naked eye is only able to discern roughly 9,000 or so stars in our own galaxy. With normal telescopes and powerful binoculars, we can see roughly 340,000 others. But this means that as magnificent as it is to look up and see the night sky, wherever we are here on earth, we are only seeing a small fraction of what is really there, in our own galaxy. There are an estimated 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, and we are awestruck at seeing only 9,000 of them on the clearest of nights. The stars that we see are only those of our own galaxy, and we know that there at least several hundred billion other galaxies in the observable universe. 

No matter the mental gyrations one might do, the conclusion is that there is simply no way that our brains can fathom that manner of scope – the actuality of Ultimate Reality.

And so – as I finally made my way back to my bed the other night, I thought to myself:

If humanity does not destroy itself either through climate catastrophe, nuclear holocaust, pandemic diseases, religious mayhem, or anarchical ridiculousness – one day our great-grandchildren will think it routine to celebrate an anniversary or birthday in an orbiting restaurant. Spending a day or an evening in space and returning in time to sleep in your own (independently climate-controlled) bed will be commonplace. Children will have seen the earth as the ball that it is and finally it will be inexcusable to be a flat-earther!

We have so much to look forward to if we do not destroy ourselves. Things that none of us, living today, could possibly imagine.

But then I still could not sleep. It was still too hot.

I imagined what it would look like, sitting on the balcony of any planet orbiting any one of those stars I saw earlier, and looking toward our own twinkling dot — our sun. The first thing one realizes is that such an observer would not see the earth – just as we cannot see the speculative planet we are imagining, out there, from here. All we see is the nuclear activity – its sun.

All we see are the dots.

And so few of them.

And finally, I fell asleep.

© D.W. Cymbalisty 2021

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1 Comment

  1. Donna Dueck on October 10, 2021 at 5:42 am

    Excellent food for thought …I to have gazed at our night skies in Awe and amazement, to me it speaks of eternity and worlds without end. I can only imagine the greatness of it’s creator.
    We are truly blessed to have and witness such splendor.