I don’t know if they’re still using it, because I don’t have cable anymore, but a few years back, the Discovery Channel made a big thing of the slogan, “The world is just awesome.” It was their catchphrase for a long time, and even had its own theme song and video. Probably several videos, now that I think about it.
The world is a chunk of life-covered rock; a very small rock in a large solar system. One planet among many. (As defined by the International Astronomical Union, the solar system has eight worlds. While simplicity is always nice, I do personally prefer the Star Trek definition of what a planet is: if it looks round when I’m in orbit, it’s a planet. Which would give us 40 or 50 planets, but that’s irrelevant.)
One small rock among many, spread across a fairly large expanse of nothing. All of those rocks and pebbles, small and smaller, orbit at varying distances a really big ball of gas, pressed so much under its own gravity that it’s enjoying spontaneous nuclear fusion that will run for a few billion more years. A ball of gas in the middle of a solar system filled with wonders we haven’t even begun to imagine yet.
And the solar system really isn’t that big. Oh, it’s big. From the sun to the edge of the Oort cloud is something in the neighbourhood of 15 trillion km. Trillion: that’s a one followed by 12 zeros. The mind boggles. But it has not yet begun to boggle. Switching to light years (ly) to measure, each of which is a little less than 9.5 trillion km, starting from our sun and moving in a particular direction, you will find the closest star to ours, Proxima Centauri at a mere 4 and a quarter light years away. Does it have little rocks spinning in space around it? Probably. Science of this point makes it seem likely that most stars at least have some pebbles spinning around them.
Our sun and Proxima Centauri, massive as they are, make up an extremely tiny fraction of one percent of our galaxy. The Milky Way contains something around four hundred billion stars, which means four hundred billions star systems.
The Milky Way is an ordinary galaxy, at around 100,000 ly across, one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable universe, which may be only 4% of the actual universe.
The universe is staggeringly, insanely huge, gargantuan, colossal. There’s only one word big enough to encompass it: everything. There are more things to see, and more mysteries than our species will ever possibly have the chance to contemplate.
That’s incredible. That’s awesome. And I’m grateful for the endless mystery.
Be well, everyone.by