Hey everyone. Did you catch my random post a few days ago about that wonderful website that lets you explore the universe on every scale? If you didn’t, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Trust me…
After playing with this for a while, I have conflicting feelings. As I zoom in past the level of ants and sand to the things that I can’t see, I feel enormous. There are 10 times as many living bacteria cells in my body than my own human cells. I suppose that might make some people feel like they are more bacteria than human, but it makes me feel like I am the KING OF BACTERIA! 100 trillion bacteria will live their entire lives within my digestive tract eating pizza and cheeseburgers without ever knowing it. They do all of the hard work of digesting my food while I sit back and enjoy the good life. Keep eating, my tiny minions! Feel free to explore the length and breadth of my intestines. Swim until your little flagella are tired, but you will never understand where you are and what you are truly doing.
Let’s keep moving. Past the strangely robotic bacteriophage and the wonderfully elegant double-helix of DNA to the buzzing and whirring atoms that make up everything around us. Protons and Neutrons bundled together in their atomic huddle while their ADHD electron friends fly around them in incomprehensibly complicated patterns. Somehow, different combinations of these three particles comprise everything that we see. If only that were all! Those particles themselves are made up of even smaller particles. Particles so small that they can never be seen because they are smaller than the wavelengths of light and even photons themselves. Quarks go about their little business day in and day out with no possible idea that they are a tiny part of an electron which is a tiny part of an atom which is a tiny part of a molecule and so on. Neutrinos are so small that they zip right through ordinary matter. They can’t be concerned with us. They have more important things to do!
With this kind of scope, I can’t help but look at something as simple as a pencil and be amazed at the worlds held within it. They keep following their paths that are dictated to them by the laws of the universe and will never know the part that they play in the grand scheme of things.
Ok, we’ve been small. Let’s get huge!
Our little blue marble has been spinning around the Sun for a couple billion years. The elements that comprise it were created in ancient stars on a scale that is impossible to comprehend. Our Sun is over 100 times bigger than the Earth and 330,000 times denser as it continues to create billions of acts of nuclear fusion, producing the energy that gives us life. The closest star to us is Proxima Centauri, and it is 4.2 light years away. That means that light itself which travels at 186,000 miles per second would take 4.2 years to get here. That’s our closest neighbor! We both live in this gorgeous spiral galaxy called the Milky Way. If you’ve ever been outside on a clear night with no light pollution, you know why it’s called that. The ancient Greeks said that it was like a highway of milk across the night sky. Our word “galaxy” comes from the Greek word for milk. Fun fact! Drink up!
This beautiful galaxy that we inhabit is 120,000 light-years across. If we were somehow able to bend the laws of physics and travel at the speed of light, it would take 24 times the entire span of recorded history to get from end to end. There would be plenty of rest-stops along the way however because there are somewhere between 200-400 BILLION stars in our galaxy and we are finding potentially Earth-like planets everyday. A mere 2.6 million light-years away from us is a slightly bigger galaxy called Andromeda that is on a direct collision course with us and will hit us in a few billion years. Both of those galaxies are also a part of a local group of galaxies that is 10 million light-years across and includes about 53 galaxies. That’s only one group! Conservative estimates put us at about 100 billion galaxies in the universe with about 300 sextillion stars! That’s 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars with unknown numbers of planets.
The bigness! The bigness! It’s all so big!
Are you wearing a hat? Is there a hat nearby? I would like you to find a hat and hold it please. I have some more news that is all kinds of crazy.
All that. All those stars, planets, galaxies, and clusters make up less than 5% of the universe. The other 95% is dark matter and dark energy. We call it dark because we can’t see it. We know it exists because of the gravitational forces that it exerts on the observable universe, but we don’t know much more than that. With all of the mysteries we have unlocked in every scale of the universe, we are completely blind to over 95% of the universe. For all we know, there could be entire dark matter civilizations that exist right here in our midst. The entire known universe for all of its bigness is incredibly tiny and insignificant.
Meanwhile, here I sit at my computer, a little over 6 feet tall assuming that my reality IS reality. I look up at the stars and feel small. I look into a microscope and I feel powerful. When I look at all of it together, I feel something entirely different. The microscopic world within me is what makes me who I am. Every buzzing electron is me. When that electron buzzes away and joins the atoms in a dandelion, it is still me because it belonged somewhere else before it was a part of me. When I see the stars, I see the nuclear furnaces that made my molecules. They are me. I am them. My personality, my character traits, and everything that makes me who I am was passed down to me through my parents’ DNA and their influence on my life. I am them, and they are me. If you are able to see yourself in a star, a dandelion, and a plastic bottle, then hatred and prejudice make no sense. We’re made of the same atoms. We are the same being.
Jesus’ disciples once asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” in an attempt to escape Jesus’ radical message of forgiveness. Well, friends, I would venture to say that the Good Samaritan from the parable is more than the man’s neighbor. During the whole ordeal, the men undoubtedly swapped some subatomic particles. At that point, they are more than neighbors. They are brothers. They are made of the same substance. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has a much different meaning in this context. Look out for each other. Love ridiculously. After you die, your atoms will go into some other living creature. You might as well use them to love while you have the chance. Just as the electrons in an atom follow a course that is dictated by the laws of physics, so we should go about our lives, loving and forgiving as we have been commanded. God told stars to produce heavy elements, gravity to bend space-time, and people to love each other. I am choosing to love today because that is why I am here.