My Two Cents On Our *Really* Big Universe

You are incredibly special. You are also incredibly insignificant. Once you realize your place in the universe, this little paradox makes more sense.

One of my favorite movies is Contact. Aside from the fact that it contains brilliant acting and a captivating plot, one of my favorite quotes is in it. When answering the question if we’re alone in the universe, the main character says, “If it is just us, it seems like an awful waste of space.” Waste of space is right. The universe is incredibly huge…mind-blowingly enormous.

The fastest thing in the universe, light, can circle the Earth seven times in a single second. Our galaxy, one of hundreds of BILLIONS in the KNOWN universe, is so enormous that it takes light more than 100,000 years to get from one end to the other. As far as we’ve been able to calculate and detect, the KNOWN universe is 13.7 billion years old…yes, it takes light almost 14 billions years to get from one end of the universe to the other.

Our galaxy alone has hundreds of billions of stars. We’ve discovered several hundred planets orbiting many of those stars. Some are within their star’s habitable zone, meaning water could be present in liquid form. Where there’s water, there’s potentially life. Liquid water may also be one of many ways life can thrive. There may be life swimming through oceans of liquid methane, like the methane ocean on Saturn’s moon, Titan. The possibilities are endless.

Want to have your mind blown again? This universe may be one of several…but that’s a whole other topic 😉

As insignificant as we are, we are also incredibly special. Life on this planet is present in many places, from the ideal pastures of the Great Plains to underwater, super-hot hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the oceans. It is resilient and when the right chemicals and building blocks are arranged in just the right way, simple life forms evolve. Climates and geography determine what life will be like. The rest is left up to time, lots of time.

As large as the universe is, it is entirely plausible and realistic to imagine that life is thriving elsewhere in the cosmos. At this very moment, while we’re pondering whether or not it is all just a big “waste of space,” there could be an intelligent species in some other part of the universe also looking up into the skies and wondering whether they are alone. The feeling one gets from imagining that we are one of countless intelligent species in the universe is almost spiritual; The universe itself is the thing that connects us all.

Before I end up writing a novel, I’ll leave you, the reader, with this stunning video. Astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History created this animation – to amazing detail – of the known universe. Watch and be amazed…

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