Last night me and a very dear friend spent most of the night on Mt. Magazine in Paris, AR, the highest point in Arkansas. We laid on the ground for hours in surprisingly cold weather, looking at the countless stars, the visible milky way, the complex constellations, the artificial satellites and the dozens of shooting stars. Time went on forever it felt like while laying there talking and watching. It affected me in ways that I can’t really wrap my head around yet.
NOTE: Click the images to see larger, non-cropped versions.
This is an example of the view from Mount Magazine.
You see something I realized not too long ago is that I’m truly fascinated with space, possibly even obsessed. I started realizing I was always drawn to science fiction that took place in space, it wasn’t the hi-tech gadgets that drew me in though. It was the exploration, colonization, and study of this massive universe that hooked me. The thought that the next collective step of humanity is into the depths of this uncharted wilderness. I love studying the immensity of objects in space, and yet despite their size they are ultimately dominated by space, empty space. 99.999999999999999….% of matter is empty space. You are mostly empty space. Your computer is mostly empty space. There are billions of miles of space between planets and solar systems and then these objects bigger than multiple Earths combined are still almost entirely just space. Fascinating.
This is what space does to me. It makes me think about really big things like Red Giants that are hundreds of times bigger than our own seemingly huge sun.
Comparison of our sun to red giants
Or ideas like when I look up and see the milky way at night, I’m seeing across the galaxy like looking across the middle of a packed room and realizing my eyes and mind can’t comprehend the amount of stars that are in only a 1×1 inch area of it and most likely somewhere out there is some other intelligent beings looking up across at us thinking something similar.
The Milky Way, or part of it. We are inside it, however this is what it looks like to look through the middle of it straight to the other side. In the middle is believed to be a supermassive black hole.
Space also makes me think of really small things like clouds of tiny particles of space dust that the sun shines through making parts of the night sky glow as if God had splashed gold dust into piles of twinkling diamonds. It strains at my mind’s very understanding of reality.
Zodiacal light, sunlight scattered by space dust around sunset or sunrise
We look up at sky scrapers that take up less than .01% (made up this number but it’s pretty clear they don’t take up much at all) of Earth’s surface and we think those are massive! Yet they are nothing to the size of Earth. We travel all the way around the world and think how it feels as if the world goes on nearly forever. But then you look up and see that tiny burning ball in the sky and you realize it’s the size of a marble from 92.96 MILLION miles away… it’s 870,000 miles across and can hold 1 million earths in it, you can’t fathom that concretely.
Size comparison of earth and sun
Then you read how the pinpoint stars you see up in the sky are often bigger than our own star. In fact there is a star that’s radius is 1650 times bigger than our Sun. If you replaced our’s with it, it would expand out past Jupiter.
Our sun and the sun with the largest radius, VY Canis Majoris. 1650 times bigger than Sol.
Another one is 8,700,000 millions times brighter than our sun. Insane right?
The Sun, the Earth and the most luminous star known in the universe. Unfortunately, there is no way to illustrate such a huge brightness difference, so a size comparison will do.
How about this then… This galaxy, the Milky Way is around 100,000 light years in diameter. That means taking roughly 6 trillion miles and multiplying it by 100,000… no big deal.Except there is another galaxy up in the sky that you can see called Andromeda and it is one of our closest universal neighbors. It is over 200,000 light years in diameter. At this point, you and I both have absolutely lost the concept of how big things are. We have no way of relating with these numbers, but I’m not done yet.
Comparison of galaxies in our local cluster. Fun fact: Andromeda and the Milky Way are on a collision course however it’s speculated that due to the sheer amount of empty space, that when it does happen, it’s likely it wouldn’t affect Earth.
There is another galaxy Hercules A, that is over 1.5 million light years across. 6 trillion miles x 1.5 million will give you the mileage, absolutely huge. The Milky Way has probably around 200-400 billion stars… not planets, STARS. Our puny galaxy is packed! Sort of.
Make sure to actually click on this photo and see it full size. So many stars in such a small space.
The Milky Way is producing around 10 stars per year, there is a galaxy that is making them at a speed around 4,000 per year and it’s just warming up. It’s likely to become one of the largest galaxies someday. Right now though, there are galaxies with similar structure to ours out there with 1 trillion stars and others not like ours with 100 trillion stars… Backtrack to Andromeda though, being one of our CLOSEST neighbors is still 2,538,000 light years away (you know how to figure the mileage by now). Then there is a galaxy that’s name is just a string of numbers and letters, that is possibly the most distant observed object in the universe 13.3 BILLION miles away think about that distance.
MACS0647-JD, the farthest known galaxy in the universe. The light we see of it here took so long for it to arrive that we only are now seeing it at around 3% of it’s total current age.
It’s maddening to think about… I’m not done though, but close. The OBSERVABLE universe is about 46 billion light years across. That’s what we can see. Also, the universe has expanded ever since the Big Bang. However, recently we learned it’s not simply expanding at a constant speed, it’s accelerating. Whoa. Most of these last few numbers I’ve mentioned are scientific estimates, it’s impossible to be exact, but most of them are confidently within the ball park. However at this point they get a bit more speculative, but they still aren’t vague guesses. These huge galaxies we’ve talked about? There are probably around 100 TRILLION of them in our universe. And that leaves us with around 300 sextillion stars (3.23 x 10^23, or write 323 and add 23 zeros after it.) Finally though, we are starting to gain bits of evidence that lead us to believe that there is a very real possibility of multiple universes. Maybe a finite number, possibly an infinite number all making up the multiverse. To get into the hypothesizes for what they might be like is an entirely different talk though. So now think back about how big you thought that Empire State building was and then realize how far we’ve come to multiple universes in size. Not sure what to think right?
Click here for an image that will blow your mind but is too big to show properly in the blog!
I’ll give you this take away though, you are small, incredibly so. Yet, we know us humans are composed of atoms, and atoms have particles like protons and electrons which get broken down more and more until you get to things like quarks which to tidy up briefly is like this:
Atom = 1,000,000 times smaller than a human hair
Proton = 100,000 times smaller than an atom (or 1,000,000 x 100,000 times smaller than a hair)
Quarks are far smaller than these to the point of being geometrically a point, like the dots you put on graphes. Taking up no space and having no size but still existing as a place. I have no idea how to even make sense of that to be honest. Yet now it’s become likely that quarks are made of even smaller things we haven’t figured out how to look at yet. So yeah, you are small, but not THAT small. Which means really you are just average if even that. You aren’t even a footnote, just a random number on a scale.
So how about I finish by getting to my point?
Looking at space stretches me. It stretches my understanding of everything. It challenges every thought I have like some eccentric professor saying, “Think bigger Luke! Yet also, still you must think infinitely smaller too!” It forces me to look at myself, my life and everything else and realize how insignificant it all is in comparison to the majesty of all this creation before. Luke Liddell is not special. I am not important. I am made up of the dead atomic remains of once gloriously powerful stars. I’m smaller than small and bigger than big. Yet the Bible says creation is broken and the Grand Canyons and starry skies which appear so beautiful are but a shadow of what they were and what they will be.
The Helix Nebula
They are awaiting redemption along with us. And yet still even beyond that beauty and majesty is an infinitely more majestic God. God is this being that is bigger than ALL of these unfathomable reaches and still smaller than the most microscopic of crevices. Infinite in both directions. Alpha and Omega. He who was and is and is to come. I start sputtering words trying to think of the size of Him. That’s a good thing though. In his size, he made all these things, universes and quarks each. He built them and placed them and knows them absolutely perfectly and they run and work as they do every single moment of existence each individually because he commands them to. Yet surrounded by all the beauty and power that is producing awe and wonder in this multiverse, he chose us. Humans. He chose to place us at the pinnacle of ALL creation. Governors or co-heirs with him of all it. He gave us all of it. And you, a human being, a person, despite innumerable beautiful things he made and the countless things He is always doing, chose to know you intimately. Not just a matter of knowing absolutely everything about you, but knowing you personally.
Here’s an example; do you have a relationship with a piece of wood you pick up on the ground? Yes! You and it have crossed paths and though insignificantly so, you and it are tied together forever. Maybe you carve it into something which makes that relationship with it a little less insignificant. Yet still, your relationship to a piece of wood is nothing in comparison to your relationship with your best friend, your kid or your significant other. Out of every animal and organism, out of every object from whole universes, to excessively bright star, to the thing that make up quarks… he chose you *insert your name here* to love and cherish and dwell with. God doesn’t dwell with the supernovas and black-holes like he dwells with you. You are far more important than them. And it has nothing to do with your own intrinsic value. He bestowed value and importance to you, you did not earn it. Instead he made you in his image. You, a finite being carry in your soul a piece of that infinity, his “otherness”. Nothing else has that. NOTHING. It’s something more powerful than all the burning suns combined and that is why sin is so ridiculously awful and his grace so unbelievably incredible. Despite the mess we’ve made of things, he died for us and is restoring everything, us and all the beautiful things in existence. He is making all things new. He became sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That is our God. That is Jesus. God himself does not dwell in stars or galaxies, no instead he chose to live in us. We are his temple… what does it mean? Well… it means he’s good and truly awesome. Beyond that I don’t know. I know one day I will see him face to face though and I will finally comprehend all these intangible things talked about here and I will be in awe, and I will be so overwhelmed that all I will know to do is worship him for who he is. Where we go from there I don’t know either, what adventures he has planned for us then, I can’t speculate but thinking about it last night certainly made me smile.
So next time you get a chance one evening, read Job 38 through the rest of the book, or Psalm 19 then go outside and see the blackness of space and all the stars. Have your mind stretched a bit by simply stopping and taking it in and just as God himself said, “Be still and know.”
“Is not God in the height of heaven? and behold the height of the stars, how high they are!” – Job 22:12
“The stars are the jewels of the night, and perchance surpass anything which day has to show. A companion with whom I was sailing one very windy but bright moonlight night, when the stars were few and faint, thought that a man could get along with them,—though he was considerably reduced in his circumstances,—that they were a kind of bread and cheese that never failed.” — Henry David Thoreau, ‘Night and Moonlight,‘ published in Excursions, 1913.