Into the Unknown

[The Whirlpool Galaxy]

Sometimes when things get rough or crazy, I find it useful to remind myself of the impossible hugeness of the universe we live in.

The size of the structures we see with our telescopes dwarfs all human concerns the way a cruise ship dwarfs a microbe. Actually, the difference in scale is likely many orders of magnitude greater than this. You can’t begin to wrap your mind around how unbelievably BIG everything is.

The picture of the Whirlpool Galaxy above is linked to a larger version of itself. Contemplate its immensity for a few moments. At this distance, our Sun would not even be visible, let alone Earth. This is a vortex of matter and energy, like our own Milky Way, containing hundreds of billions of stars. Most of what we see here is gas illuminated by starlight, not the stars themselves. (The few stars with “compass points” are actually in the foreground, in our own galaxy.)

I do not for once dismiss the unique opportunity that embodiment in human form presents. However, it is so easy to get caught up in the conceits and concerns of the ego. Astronomical contemplation provides a quick reminder of the place we occupy in the scheme of things, physically at least. How small our petty problems appear when viewed in the light of 100 billion suns.

And between the galaxies is space, an empty vacuum pierced by lethal radiation from all directions. There is so much more space than matter, it makes even the galaxies look small.

We float in space, a tiny bubble of air in the void. How impossible and unlikely that we would be here at all. How tragic when we see nothing but ourselves in the world around us, lost in a hall of mirrors.

Here is a cluster of galaxies, each as big and full of stuff as the one above, and as our own.

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