My ten year olds are doing a project called, “My Place in Space”. Helping them with their research has served me up a big dose of ‘cosmic vertigo’, which is (according to the ABC Radio podcast of the same name) “that dizzy felling you get when you think about the incomprehensible scale of space”. It could also be described as having your mind blown. I remember that the infinite scale of the universe blew my mind when I was small. I’m still, relative to that universe, very small. Incomprehensively small.
I live on a little island in the southern hemisphere of a small-ish planet (Jupiter is 300 times the size of Earth just to give you some sketchy perspective), in a solar system in a large, spiral-shaped galaxy, in a universe of immeasurable size.
I’m sorry to tell you things you already know, but I’m trying to wrap my small mind around the scale of things in space. Also I realise I’d forgotten much of these existential facts, pushed them aside so I could get on with sweeping the floor and sorting the socks, or never managed to retain them at all. So, good to revise things.
Mind Blowing Facts:
- Our sun is one star among an estimated 100 billion within the Milky Way Galaxy.
- The Milk Way Galaxy is huge. It takes our sun 250 million years to travel all the way around the centre of the Milky Way.
- Earth is sort of in the suburbs of the milky way. Not in the centre but not in the outback.
- Our solar system is only one of over five hundred in this galaxy.
- The Milky Way Galaxy is only one of billions of galaxies within the universe.
- Only three of the other galaxies are visible to us without a telescope. One of them, Andromeda, is 250 million light years away but appears to be getting closer. Researchers believe that in about 14 billion years it will collide with the Milky Way.
Are you still with me? Do you need to sit down?
The questions that inevitably arise from a bout of cosmic vertigo is: – What are the chances, in all the variables inflicted upon all the planets, all the possible temperature shifts, positional characteristics and gravitational quirks that can cancel out life in a blink, what are the chances of the planet Earth supporting such (arguably) sophisticated creatures as the Homo Sapien? What are the chances of the conditions being favourable enough to form such beauty as Niagara Falls and Russell Falls, Milford Sound and Marion Bay?
What are the chances of me? And my body creating my little humans with their unique characteristics?
And if we can win the life lotto here, then surely in the places past our telescopes, someone else has too.
If someone is looking back at us from the Andromeda Galaxy or beyond, I hope they’re doing a better job than us. I hope they don’t layer plastic straws and coffee cup lids into their Anthroposcene Epoch. I hope they don’t blow each other up or hand all the power to Toad of Toad Towers. I hope they’re looking after their place in space, because it’s an absolute confounded fucking miracle.
I think I need a little lie down.
Happy Monday everyone. xx