Our star, the sun is the giver of life on this planet. It is the very root of the food chain that sustains all of us. We might be tricked into thinking that there is something special about this immense ball of gas, but really it’s pretty average. When we look up at the night sky those tiny dots we see are stars, not that different from our own. Some are different sizes and ages, but there is nothing about our star to distinguish it from the backdrop of the night sky.
Much as our species would wish to believe otherwise, we are not the centre of everything. From a different vantage point our star would be just another dot in the sky. This deflates our conceits somewhat, but also opens our eyes to an amazing possibility. Who knows how many of the stars we see above us on a clear evening have civilizations on the planets orbiting them. We might not be special, but the upshot of this is that we might not be alone.
Our sun is in vast sea of stars. A spiral galaxy consisting of 10o,000,000,000 stars. The Milky Way is so vast that it takes light approximately 100,000 years to cross it. This ocean of stars is vast beyond comprehension, but this is nothing compared to what lies beyond.
Beyond our Milky Way we find another vast galaxy, Andromeda – our closest neighbour in our local group consisting of over 30 other galaxies. This local group has a radius of 10,000,000 light years. This is dauntingly vast, and one can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmingly insignificant, but there is something fantastic and wonderful about considering the vastness of space. The sheer number of stars. The number of other forms of life which may have evolved to be able to ponder the same things. But if you think this is where it stops, think again.
Between September 2003 to January 2004 astronomers pointed the Hubble Space Telescope at what appeared to be a blank region of sky. What they saw was truly astonishing beyond words. The image produced was the deepest image of the universe ever taken, peering back approximately 13,000,000,000 years. There is an estimated 10,000 galaxies in the image, all consisting of billions of stars. Yet this is only a tiny fraction of the sky. The implications of this are sensational, we live in a universe far, far grander than anything we can possibly imagine. What lies beyond our universe isn’t known, but we could be dwarfed further in a vast sea of universes – a thought that I find deeply stirring.
This is what happens when we step back and try to establish a sense of perspective. The place we call home may be wonderful, but it is dwarfed enormously by the vast cosmos we inhabit. There may well be other planets out there with other civilizations and stories to tell, but for now lets zoom back in to our little rock, with our sense of perspective firmly established.