The Stars

Have you ever just stood outside at night and looked to the sky? In the city with all the light pollution it’s extremely difficult to see anything. Out in the desert, or anywhere that has a nice, dark sky to look at. I find the stars fascinating.

We look up, and see so many pinpricks of light, more than any human is capable of counting. Each one of those dots is another world, be it a planet or a star. These things we see with the naked eye are merely within our solar system, for the most part. Even the closest planets, like Venus and Mars, look like a little speck of light, as Earth would look like a little blue speck from there.

We cannot fathom the vastness of space. Just the Milky Way Galaxy is some 100,000 light years across. It takes a beam of light 100,000 years to go from one end to the other, and our solar system is on one edge of that. Imagine the entire universe: some 13.8 billion light years. The stars and galaxies that the Hubble Telescope has seen at 13 billion light years out are most likely already blown up and gone. It’s just taken that long for us to see it.

If any civilization exists at the other side of the Milky Way, and they could see an image of Earth, they would not see a place inhabited by humans. They would see a pristine world, perhaps even covered with ice.

On a couple of occasions, astronomers pointed Hubble at a seemingly void area of space. They left it there to see what it could see for anywhere from 100 hours to 11 days. To everyone’s surprise, it came back with images that contained numerous galaxies. In 2004, Hubble created an image now called “Hubble Ultra Deep Field”, which contains some 10,000 galaxies. Some look like spirals, others just dots. In 2012, astronomers did it again, and left Hubble staring for the equivalent of 23 days. The thousands of images were pieced together in what is known as “Extreme Deep Field”, exposing galaxies around 13.2 billion light years away, created when the universe was just an infant.

Light travels at roughly 186,000 miles per second (light from the Sun reaches Earth in 8 minutes), or 671 million miles per hour. So, the whole of the universe is way too big to comprehend. Suffice it to say it’s fucking massive.

Then there are the stars that are billions of times the mass of our Sun and the ultramassive black holes that are literally light-years across. I think Star Trek was lying to us. First of all, it is technologically impossible to exceed the speed of light. Second, travelling that fast, everything else would not remain in real time. If you travel close to the speed of light for an hour, you are an hour older, but upon your return, many years would have passed for everyone else. I guess that’s why they call it science fiction.

I now leave you with the quote of the day:

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

Stephen Hawking

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