The Universal Perspective

jon round 1By  Jonathan Stroud
JournalistsForSpace.com

There is ONE star in our solar system and 8 planets (Sorry Pluto).

There are an estimated 400,000,000,000 (400 billion) stars in the Milky Way Galaxy and 100,000,000,000 (100 billion) planets orbiting those stars.

The Milky Way Galaxy is just one of the 100,000,000,000 (100 billion) to 500,000,000,000 (500 billion) estimated galaxies found in the Universe. These galaxies are  home to approximately 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (100 octillion) stars.

These are just calculated numbers, but no matter how hard you try, no stretch of the imagination can truly put the sheer scale and size of the Universe into a human perspective. When the busyness of day-to-day life is factored in, it can be hard to find the time to contemplate our own existence among the vast amount stars, planets and galaxies in the Universe.

What are the odds that ONE out of the 100 OCTILLION stars would be the exact variables to allow us to exist and evolve?

At a first glance into the lonely dark abyss of space, it is easy to assume the likelihood of life arising on a tiny planet orbiting a star in the outer portions of the Milky Way would be slim. Although, the chances are not as small as basic intuition would have you assume. The ingredients needed to form organic life, as we understand it, are a lot more predominant in the Universe that scientists first speculated. With the success of space telescopes such as the Hubble and the Kepler, which recently discovered 3,443 exoplanets, the chances of finding organic life outside of Earth increases.

Why do I feel like the center of the Universe?

One thing, (I assume) everyone has in common is a subjective experience and feeling that they are the center of the Universe. We can assume that none of us is actually the center; yet, there is an undeniable feeling of being the center of your own experience within the vast Universe. The importance of this feeling, of there being an experience, is easy to overlook as an insignificant biological survival adaptation; however, neuroscience shows that the experience of the self is merely an illusion. Illusion or not, it still does not explain why we have evolved in a way that we are able to contemplate our existence among the stars.

The Power of 10

“The Power of 10” is an older representation of the scale of the Universe, but it’s a classic. It starts out with a shot of a couple next to a lake in Chicago and zooms out by magnitudes of 10 to the furthest edges of the observable universe and then zooms back in. While there are more recent versions of the video, I tend to gravitate towards this video when I want to humble myself by watching it and reminding myself of my own insignificance in the day-to-day workings of the Universe.

Check out The Power of Ten here: 

Another tool for perspective is the scale of the Universe slider. Check it out here: http://scaleofuniverse.com/

We are on that mode of dust suspended in a sunbeam

When given little contemplation of our own existence, it can come off as depressing or even frightful when realization of  our insignificance..

We’re so small, yet when faced with daily problems and anxieties it is easy to forget just how small our personal subjective world really is… The late Carl Sagan put it into perspective best, “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

sunbeam
*Earth, as seen by Voyager 1 at a distance of 4 billion miles (Image from JPL/NASA)

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Sources:

Howell, Elizabeth. “How Many Stars Are In The Universe?” Space.com. N.p., 31 May 2014. Web. 27 May 2016. <http://www.space.com/26078-how-many-stars-are-there.html&gt;

Siegel, Ethan. “How Many Planets Are In The Universe?” Starts With A Bang. Science Blogs, 05 Jan. 2013. Web. 27 May 2016. <http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2013/01/05/how-many-planets-are-in-the-universe/&gt;.

“We Live on a Mote of Dust Suspended in a Sunbeam.” N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2016. <http://robotics.dem.uc.pt/norberto/we.htm&gt;.

 

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