It is most difficult to conceive of a more humbling experience in life than to lay and stare at the stars on a clear night. Our place within the grand everything seems in equal parts so small and wonderful. Each of our lives are permitted to take up just a split second within the vastness of time before those atoms that make you – and that have always existed – move on to form something new and equally as unique. But for a brief moment those atoms from every corner of space and time, from the explosion of stars billions of year back, became self aware, they became rational, they became the universe trying to comprehend itself, they became you. You are unique. The atoms have always existed. It is only since your birth, that those atoms became self aware. This is life. The collection of atoms that – after billions of years flying aimlessly through the cosmos – became the people that you love and are unique and will continue to exist until the moment time itself comes to an end. It is therefore true that the connection between you is so thoroughly unique and wonderful that it becomes simply impossible to describe. So cherish it. Let it devour you.
I am quite certain that this is the most awe inspiring and beautiful image mankind has ever taken or witnessed. It is one of very few objects in my life that make my heart race just by looking at it for a brief moment.
– This is the Hubble Extreme Deep Field. Every object you see is a galaxy. It shows one section of the night sky. Space.com tells us that this image is just one piece in a jigsaw of 30,000,000 more images like it. As if zooming in on one pixel in a grand image. This one piece of the jigsaw shows around 5,500 galaxies. The redder galaxies are the most distant ever recorded. The image shows galaxies from as far back as 13.2 billion years ago. This means that the light collected by Hubble that you now see on that image above, began its journey before the Earth itself existed. What a phenomenal human achievement. A testament to the brilliant curiosity of our species.
Further, our home galaxy, the Milky Way contains around 200 billion stars, with perhaps as many planets, if not billions more. Many of which will exist in the habitable zone of their system. In one galaxy alone. Andromeda has perhaps one trillion stars. Those are just two galaxies. Imagine, as you look at the picture above, how many planets you must be looking at. How many potential lives, events and species you are witnessing. How many beautiful sceneries you are not even aware exist. How many traditions and philosophies that have never been seen on Earth. The potential is almost too incomprehensible to consider.
The brilliant Carl Sagan once reminded us that every name of every great sports person, military general, singer, religious prophet, politician, and scientist, every species, every book, every ocean, every period of history, every discovery, every Rosa Parks, every Isaac Newton, every Socrates, every explorer and every artist that has ever existed is known only to us on our one tiny planet. Our knowledge is inconceivably vast, and yet inconceivably limited to our little ball in a tiny obscure region of the universe. Indeed, the history of our species alone is perhaps less than a quarter of a million years. Imagine the scale and varieties of ideologies, of species, of creativity, of discovery, of tribes, of literature, of war, of festivals, of Paris’ and Beijing’s, of love, of heroes and rulers, of Hemingway’s and Brontë’s, of conversation and music, that you could potentially be looking directly at when you look at that image. At that one single, seemingly limitless image.
Quite amazingly – and even more likely to melt your brain – if we assume a very conservative estimate of 100 billion stars per galaxy, on the scale used to estimate the size of the Hubble Extreme Deep Field, the observable universe would contain 123,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. That’s 123 billion billion stars. Consider that for a second. Try to rationalise that number in your mind. And then perhaps marvel at the beauty of the simple fact that your mind – an assortment of atoms no different to those that make up the stars you look upon, nor those that make up the clothes that you wear – even has the wonderful ability to try to rationalise that number.
In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch. It is the successor to Hubble. It is expected to go far beyond the capability of Hubble, around 100x more powerful, producing images of galaxies forming and formed just a couple of hundred million years after the big bang. The farthest we have ever glimpsed into our past. It will achieve this in hours. How incredible it is to be human, and to be able to try to comprehend our origins. So when you next have five minutes to spare one evening, lay and stare at the stars. Really consider what it is you are staring in to. It is an overwhelmingly emotional connection, and experience. It is so humbling. The beautiful everything.