If you were to ask me “Why do you like Science?” or “What’s your favorite subject?” The answer is simple, Astronomy. I know people who struggle to feel like their part of something, or people who are part of a church, synagogue, clubs or teams to feel connected. All I have to do is look up on a starry night.
Astronomers estimate there are roughly 1.5 trillion visible galaxies, here’s 1.5 trillion numerically, 1,500,000,000,000. Our home galaxy, the Milky Way has roughly 300 billion stars! The sheer number of stars in those 1.5 trillion galaxies is utterly staggering… 450,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000. Ponder that one for a moment… Now if you don’t know the Kepler (or K2) mission, its job was to search for planets around distant starts and boy oh boy have they succeeded! They’ve found thousands of planets (about 3,200), of all sorts of varieties, shapes and orbital periods. While not all are hospitable because they’re too close or too far from their home star to have liquid water (otherwise known as the “goldilocks zone”) but they’re there!
Looking up at the sky, I realize how fortunate I am to live in a time of exploration that we live in. Consider Cassini, about to finish its 20- year mission at Saturn or Juno, currently orbiting Jupiter, or the venerable Voyager probes still functioning and chugging along since their launch in 1977! So far away they’re in interstellar space, the space between the stars! There is so much out there, so much to see we’re a part of ALL of it! When you consider that energy is neither created nor destroyed, you’re made of star stuff, the very atoms of your body formed from the death of a star billions of years ago. The atoms in right hand could have come from a different star than the ones in your left hand. You are part of something so incredibly large, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or small, because we are. You, me, all the good people and bad people who’ve ever lived are/were infinitely small in an infinitely large universe, but you’re a part of it. You are connected to everything large and small. When I think about it, I’m glad to be there, to be able to think about such things, to be able to use space telescopes or part of a species that’s sent probes so far away they’re no longer influenced by our sun. I’m able to realize that regardless of how puny I am or how pathetically short a time I’ll be a living part of the universe, I am a part of that universe, and so are you. A part of the universe and connected to something bigger than we’ll ever be.
So the next time you see a star or gaze up at Mars, remember that you are part of something, you are connected to everything around you and not just here on Earth. That point of light you see in the night sky could be a star and that star could have a planet, similar to Earth with a being wondering if there’s life out there, just like we do. Connected to all of it.
Author: Frank DiGiovanni, Educator