Science is often viewed as a cold and dispassionate subject, centred around facts, statistics and complicated mathematics. When we see images of blackboards chalked with unintelligible equations, talk of quantum fluctuations, or black holes it can appear to almost like another language entirely. If we cast aside the complex terminology and difficult to grasp concepts, however, there is a wonderful story to be told by science. Its a story on a scale grander than any three-part Hollywood epic, a tale greater than the story of civilization itself. A story that stirs a sense of wonder and amazement that far surpasses any grand and ancient mythology.
Think of your ancestors for a moment, if you are lucky you may have been able to trace your family history back quite far into the past, but it extends a lot further than any of our archives – there is an unbroken chain of ancestors from you all the way back to the very first life that appeared around 3900,000,000 years ago. This is simply incredible to consider, especially in light of some extra facts. Consider the Permian extinction around quarter of a billion years ago, 95% of all species on earth were wiped out in that event, or the mass extinction event 65,000,000 years ago (the one that wiped out all the non-avian dinosaurs) – our ancestors survived both of those deadly events and more. What’s more is that not only do we have a direct line of ancestry all the way back to the first life, it goes even further beyond that – we are directly related to non-life. Just think of that for a second or two.
What it tells us is that we are an intrinsic part of the universe. If we were to trace our ancestry back far enough we would reach simple chemistry. No life, just natural processes. Elements that were forged in a great stellar furnace that exploded long ago, allowing the birth of our solar system. As Carl Sagan put it “we are made of star-stuff”. The matter that makes up you and I has existed since the big bang. It has found itself here now in it’s current form as the product of 13,000,000,000 year process that began with the birth of the universe.
Next time you are out on a clear night, gaze out at the stars and consider these facts. How does it make you feel? That is the beauty of the cosmos.