One of the greatest things about astronomy is that it makes us feel small.
Imagine this: you’re sitting underneath the evening’s glorious dome, mind halfway to Neptune, pondering about the constellations out there, then retreating to the constellations within. Infinity can make any heart skips a beat.
The universe is 13.7 billion light years and the Earth is just a speck of dust; insignificant, easily swept by a meteor swinging our way. We are, in many ways, a cosmic accident, chance and choice conspire in their grandest way to create us, the portal back to the universe. And we happen to live in the most insignificant neighborhood, around an ordinary star, in the outer age arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.
From a cosmic perspective, the universe is busy. It’s 93 billion light years in diameter and is expanding at 68 km/s. Imagine the 1977 Carl Sagan’s Voyager, now already beyond Pluto, but yet to take another 70,000 years to reach our nearest star, Alpha Centauri. Andromeda, our nearest galaxy, is speeding towards us at 110,000 km/s and even with that speed, it’ll take her 4 billion years to collide with Earth (four billion years is roughly the same age as our planet).
But from our microscopic perspective, the night is quiet. Andromeda looks exactly the same as it was a few thousand years ago, and so are the constellations. The stars are steady and obedient, everything seemingly in place, as if no one is moving, and they are where they were even for thousands of years.
How small are we that even the greatest movements in the universe are invisible to us?
I think the constancy of the night sky is Nature’s most graceful way of showing compassion. It is through the brilliant dots that we learn to navigate the sea, to understand the time of harvest, and to make stories that will stay for the next thousands of years. And seriously, if you pin a secret unto the night stars, it will be safely kept far beyond humanity’s lifetime.
It’s hard to wrap our mind around the scale of the Universe. But the Universe wraps us, and the steadiness of the night sky is a calm sea we can rely on and fall on to. So ponder on the night sky, because it has so much space to contain all of our secret thoughts and miniscule, humanly worries.