Small world isn’t it?

This amazing picture is the smallest planet Mercury

I would swear it was the moon. Actually, it is the same size as our moon. Messenger spacecraft is now orbiting around Mercury and will be taking 75,000 pictures to map the surface. Looks like it has taken a few asteroid hits in its time. When you think about Mars, the Moon and all the other pockmarked planets it’s quite surprising we haven’t been hit more often than the few recorded times for which there is evidence. Maybe the next one will take out Libya and Obama can get back to his golf game.

Which brings me to my point. Is it me or does the universe all of a sudden seem smaller? When I was growing up, the universe inspired total awe. We could scarcely imagine the vastness and totality of it. The thought that man would ever be exploring its outermost regions was pure science fiction. No longer. With space probes, the Hubble telescope and yes, man’s personal exploration, it has brought the heavens right into our living rooms. There is not a planet in our solar system that has not had at least a “fly by” from a spacecraft launched years beforehand. The Messenger spacecraft has been en route for 6 1/2 years. That’s just a little bit less than the average commute in L.A.

One has to doff his cap to the incredible minds of the astrophysicists and rockets scientists who pull these feats off on a regular basis. Just imagine engineering, building, launching and guiding a complicated craft millions of miles to have it arrive precisely on time, in precisely the right place and take pictures which are transmitted to earth like we were standing next to it with a digital camera! When I watch one of these “deep space” shows on Discovery or the Science Channel I sit enraptured, absorbing every spellbinding detail . Ten minutes after the show I’m lucky if I can name one galaxy besides the Milky Way. But then I’ve never been mistaken for a rocket scientist either.

It’s no wonder the ancients looked to the heavens in spiritual wonder. To think that there were Gods out there would be a natural process of thought. That a shooting star or comet would seem like a sign from those Gods is perfectly understandable. Do you think there is a God of blogs and is he/she reading this one?

We’re not just talking about the immenseness of space here, how about the relativity of time and distance? These are numbers that border on the incomprehensible. A light year is how fast light travels in space in a year. That’s at 180,000 miles per second. The milky way, a relative lightweight, is 100,000 light years across. The sun is 26,000 light years form the center of the galaxy. Get the idea?  Some day the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxy, a mere 2 1/2 million light years away, will collide. I hate it when that happens, don’t you? And see, I can name another galaxy! The age of the universe is estimated at 13 billion years. The formula used to derive this would put you to sleep in 5 light minutes. Our solar system is estimated to be 4 1/2 billion years old or at about half its life expectancy. I guess that means the earth is having a midlife crisis. No wonder we can’t get along.

But still, with all this, it just seems like the whole thing will someday be within our reach. Quite a tribute to man’s drive and ingenuity. But we’d better hurry. The old sun will be snuffed out before we know it.

As for my philosophy? Eat, drink and be merry for in 1,642,500,000,000 tomorrows we die!



3 thoughts on “Small world isn’t it?

  1. I agree with Bernice, the universe seems much bigger to me now that I have some way of comprehending its immensity. A a child I used to see the night sky as a limit… Now I realise it is the opposite

    The main reason we don’t get hit by asteroids often is our atmosphere (see recent meteorite shower in Russia) in the past the huge asteroids used to get through, but nowadays they don’t so often. Also our moon (probably the product of a massive impact at the beginning of the formation of earth) does help keep the orbit of earth clear of debris.

    Finally re the God of Blogs, having thought of one, you have created him/her/it. See ‘Small Gods’ by Terry Pratchett. He/she/it is probably thanking you dearly for all the catching up he/she/it has to do!!

  2. I wouldn’t call that a small difference, but that is certainly another way to see it. In any case, it’s big!

    Thanks for the compliment. I will see that they name the next newly discovered star after you!

  3. You should have been a writer. You are a writer. One small difference of opinion. To me the universe seems much bigger and more vast now than it did when I was a kid. True, we have more up close and personal shots of the solar system but we also realize how much more there is to space; what strange things/ideas there are in the universe: black holes, worm holes, galaxies moving away and toward each other, distances too incredible to comprehend, time slowing down as speed increases, etc. I really love this piece.

Your turn to write, but please don't be wittier than me. My ego is quite fragile.

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