Of course, I always knew the universe was vast. Infinitely vast. But that is a concept difficult to conceive, even in my most rigorous and energetic attempts. It wasn’t until early adulthood that I really came to understand even the periphery of its immensity. I floated along through adolescence in an egocentric cloud. Cognitively, yes, I understood that our planet was not the centre of the universe, but in youth it is difficult to see the complexities of a system that extend beyond one’s own nose, much less really appreciate the immeasurable and boundless cosmos. And, cognition aside, the practical result was that, even if our planet wasn’t the centre of the universe, I might as well have been.
Then I began reading about the speed of light, the fastest known phenomenon in our universe. I read that proxima centauri, the closest star to our solar system, is over 4 light years away from Earth. That means it would take light 4 years to travel between our planet and the next star. Our sun and that star are two of between 200 and 400 billion stars in our galaxy alone. Our most sophisticated technology has observed 3000 galaxies in the observable universe, and it is estimated there are as many as 125 billion or more galaxies in the universe as a whole.
I began giggling uncontrollably, something I have found that I have done ever since childhood when I am trying to comprehend something which strains my mental capacity.
While hiking along a trail at Algonquin Park a few weeks ago (see post nature), I fell to discussing the universe with my eldest. (I’ve found nature trails are the ideal place to discuss esoteric miscellany with an 8-year-old). I had read that our planet collects anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 tons of meteorite dust each year. And, of course, the earth itself was forged billions of years ago from the dust and gas of a solar nebula. I then went on to discuss in a Socratic manner that babies grow inside their mothers, and to do this, they need nutrients which the mother consumes. Those nutrients come in some way from the earth, and contain minerals that might well be found in meteorites.
Each of us, then, is a product of this earth, a product of this universe.
“…we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us.” – Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Today, I am thankful for the sheer magnitude and magnificence of the cosmos. It has the power to humble me, but that I am part of it, and we are all part of it, is comforting. It brings me an overwhelming feeling of connectivity with those around me.