We, humankind, are insignificant specks in the universe. Yet, we matter.
“NASA released the largest picture ever taken earlier this month, with a staggering 1.5 billion pixels, of the Andromeda Galaxy.”1
The images received from the Hubble Space Telescope, deployed in 1990, have rewritten scientific theories about the universe. This video from USA Today highlights the engineering and magnificence of the findings. (I can’t embed the video’s preview so you must click on the link. It’s worth seeing.)
G-d’s creation cannot be entirely captured by the most powerful telescopes. Indeed, these recently released images from NASA only hint at the complexity of detail yet to be uncovered. Still, we only need look up to see that there is something more than us. Even in the city, with electric lights obscuring the heavens, the light of a few stars reaches us down here. Tiny, insignificant, distant novelties we may think, but they hint at the hidden wonders beyond our view.
As a young woman I sat in a rural Connecticut field with a telescope one clear autumn night. The closest town was about 10 miles away yet it cast a subtle glow on the horizon. Still, it was one of the blackest skies I’d ever seen, studded with stars not even imagined in the city. We pulled sleeping bags around us in the increasingly frosty air as the telescope was trained on the moon. Its surface leaped into sharp relief revealing details I’d only seen in photographs. Luminous, and seemingly as close as if I could reach out and touch it, the moon moved imperceptibly and the telescope needed subtle readjustments.
Then the telescope was trained on the planets. Jumping Jupiter! We could see the largest planet and four of its moons! Astonished, I tried to view this as long as possible and only reluctantly allowed my partners to share the sight. This memory and the feeling of being enveloped by that dark night, with the sky as a cloak around my shoulders, stay with me. The wonder and excitement, the feeling of vastness, never faded with the sunrise and reside with me yet.
The scientist in me adds facts: Jupiter is roughly 5 astronomical units2 from Earth (approximately 465 million miles/750 million kilometers). If the sun’s light takes about 8 minutes to reach Earth, the light reflected from Jupiter back to Earth takes about 40 minutes. When we look at the Moon, Jupiter or any star, we’re looking into the past. Indeed, all of the visible lights in the sky, the Moon, all the galaxies, stars, and planets, are represent light from the past. It takes light time to reach us, and by the time we process it, the events are over. That is true for even for things that happen closer to us, like looking at a face of the person next to you; the light is delayed by infinitesimal fractions of microseconds from close objects to our eyes. At this scale the age of the light we see becomes meaningless when compared against the distances in the universe.
The poet in me contemplates splendor: Meaningless. Negligible. Inconsequential. How small is man compared to the heavens. How trivial his concerns against the workings of the cosmos. How true that seems on face value, except…
…we matter. Shakespeare said it well:3
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? — Hamlet
We are not insignificant amongst all the billions and trillions of stars in the sky. What we do, how we act, what we bring into the world has consequences. We mold the universe around us—the only important one—the one of the human experience. Our attitudes, activities, beliefs all go into partnering with the Creator. Each one of us is a galaxy by himself, full of hopes, dreams, feelings, experiences, knowledge, and passion.
Remember where we came from, whether looking outward or inward. We matter.
If you want to see more of the Hubble Space Telescope’s images, check out this YouTube video.
1. USA Today online, http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/01/20/nasa-largest-picture-andromeda-galaxy/22052513/, accessed January 21, 2015.↩
2. 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) is approximately 93 million miles (150 million km), the average distance of the earth from the sun. ↩
3. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark (2, 2).↩