I’m trying to put my problems into perspective. New Scientist magazine is helping me out. The current issue has a great article on the Milky Way galaxy. This is where I live. You too.
When I consider the big picture, really big, of what surrounds us, earthly aggravations look a lot less immense. In my saner moments, I’m able to juxtapose what gripes me with the galactic point of view. Then I see how miniscule are the mole hills that I’ve been regarding as mountains. [All quotes are from the New Scientist article.]
I’m going to be fifty-seven this year. I’m ancient!
“The galaxy’s oldest stars are roughly 13 billion years old, suggesting they formed less than a billion years after the universe began life in a giant explosion 13.7 billion years ago.”
The earth is overpopulated. I feel cramped.
“The Milky Way is a dense disc of stars, gas and dust some 100,000 light years wide.”
If my book doesn’t sell well, I’m a failure, a nothing!
“In total, the Milky Way contains at least 250 billion stars, possibly as many as a trillion.”
It’s crazy that people disagree with how I view the cosmos, since I know so much and I’m so obviously right.
“Compress the whole of human history into just one year, and you will find that it is only in the last four hours that we gleaned the faintest inkling of the geography of the galaxy we inhabit. It was in the 1920s that astronomers realized that our sun and the stars surrounding it form a cosmic island, just one of countless similar islands dotted across the universe.”
I’m afraid my bald spot is getting larger.
“At the heart of the Milky Way lies a monster…a supermassive black hole—a colossal nugget 3 million times as massive as the sun. It is so immense that its gravity prevents anything, including light, escaping from inside a radius of about 7.7 million kilometers, or about twice the distance from Earth to the moon.”
If the Senate eliminates the filibuster rule this week, the United States is doomed.
“The Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy are racing towards each other at a relative speed of 500,000 kilometers every hour, and in 3 billion years’ time, the two giants will run into each other in a catastrophic encounter that will change them both beyond recognition.”
Damn! I’ve gained two pounds.
“Ponder this one next time you make a cup of coffee. If you swapped your teaspoon of sugar for a teaspoon of neutron star innards, it would weigh about a million tonnes.”
We’re wrecking our planet; it’s the only one we have.
“In the Milky Way galaxy as a whole there must be an enormous number of planets…There are billions of planets in our galaxy.”
Sometimes I’m bored with my life. Everything I do seems so familiar.
“Most of the Milky Way is invisible, which has made it all the more difficult to figure out its structure. The motions of stars appear to be influenced by the gravity of vast amounts of mysterious ‘dark matter’ in a giant ball enclosing the galactic disk and bulge.”
My fellow humans, the indisputable fact is that we are small. Very small. And the universe is large. Very large.
If you need more convincing, remember that the Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years wide.
Now, let’s further broaden our horizons. Here’s a look at our neighborhood within a billion light years. THis is still just a small part of the entire universe, however. Those clumps aren’t galaxies, or even clusters of galaxies, but clusters of clusters of galaxies—superclusters. It’s estimated there are 3 million large galaxies like the Milky Way within a billion light years.
I feel even smaller.
But attaining a realization of complete cosmic insignificance requires Douglas Adams’ Total Perspective Vortex.
Be warned, though. As Adams says, “if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot have is a sense of proportion.”