It's good to keep things in perspective. Sure, the economic times are tough. Most of us feel like we're being painfully squeezed by circumstances not of our own making.
We do our best to keep balanced, hoping to maintain the equilibrium of the little corner of the cosmos that each of us calls "me."
Well, there's truth in the conception that the world can be found in a grain of sand. Or, a single psyche.
But it's also wise to keep in mind how small each of us is when compared to the unimaginable vastness of the universe.
Which, according to a recent New Scientist article ("Another universe comes calling") may be much vaster than suspected.
Download Another universe comes calling
Clusters of galaxies have been clocked at 1000 kilometers a second, racing toward a certain patch of sky at a unexplainably high speed. Here's an image from the article that explains what may be going on. (click to enlarge)
Note the relatively small circle in the middle of the cosmic landscape. That's the observable universe, with a radius, I believe, of some 13.7 billion light years (the age of the universe).
Much further out is the cosmic horizon, 45 billion light years from an observer. This is how far away the most distant object we could see today is. It's well over 13.7 billion light years because the universe has been expanding much faster than light since the big bang.
So (I think I've got this right)...by the time light from a hugely distant galaxy reaches us, the galaxy has zoomed much further away. It seems considerably closer than it really is.
On the other hand -- and this is the mind-blowing part of the article for me -- there may be vast expanses of the universe beyond the cosmic horizon that are having an effect of what lies within the horizon.
These expanses are indicated by the "mountain" range of dense space-time shown on the right side of the image. Some scientists suspect that an entity outside of the observable universe is pulling on the galaxy clusters, causing them to flow in that direction.
Such is far from being proven.
Still, I love the notion that so much of the cosmos is over the cosmic horizon, forever beyond our knowledge (unless we could travel faster than light) yet impacting our corner of the universe nonetheless.
Back when I was working in the health policy arena, I gave a talk to medical school students on death with dignity issues. As an icebreaker (somehow I managed to fit this into my presentation) I started off by asking them, "Who knows about how many galaxies there are in the universe?"
Nobody even hazarded a guess. And these were science students, in medical school! How much less, I'm sure, do regular people know about our place in the cosmos.
So we're very, very small in the big scheme of things. And that scheme is much bigger than we'll ever know if the New Scientist article is correct -- as it likely is to some degree.
I don't know if this knowledge helps when our car won't start, or our back aches.
But I enjoy pondering how insignificant my worries are in light of the ever-expanding and ultimately unknowable cosmos.