Perspective and The Andromeda Galaxy

Hubble Space Telescope - Detail of M31

Something to put our human struggles into perspective; to paraphrase a comment in the article, those aren’t noisy pixels. Those are freaking stars. If you’re not sure what that means, consider that our sun is a star, and it has planets orbiting it. Each of these stars likely have planets orbiting them, as well. Then consider that this is just one section of the total image taken by the Hubble telescope, and it contains thousands of stars (probably hundreds of thousands). BUT… the entire image shows something like 100 million stars, each likely with their own planetary systems.

Then consider this… this photo is of just ONE galaxy – the Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest universal neighbor.

I know in a world in which many people barely understand what a planetary system is, much less galaxies, it’s hard to impress people with the vastness and overwhelming density of an image like this. But I’ll break it down. We live in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, within which our sun (orbited by our planet, Earth, which contains the entirety of all human existence in history) is only 1 star among around 100 BILLION other stars. Our nearest neighbor in the universe is the galaxy Andromeda (of which the photograph is just one small slice), which is estimated to contain over 1 TRILLION stars.

Now, as if that didn’t put our insignificance into perspective, consider this. Those are just two galaxies. According to the best estimates of astronomers, there are at least 100 BILLION GALAXIES in the observable universe, each one with billions or trillions of stars of its own, with each individual star likely with its own planets.

I’ll leave you to do the math. But the take-away from this should be revelatory. We shouldn’t feel dismayed because, on the scale of our Milky Way galaxy, our sun is like a single grain of sand on a beach (which means that the entirety of human history, progress and existence is, essentially, about as significant on a galactic scale as a fart in a hurricane). We shouldn’t feel dismayed because the Milky Way itself is just one galaxy among hundreds of billions of others and is itself about as significant, on a UNIVERSAL scale, as a fart in a hurricane).

We should instead marvel at the vastness and glory of the universe, and take comfort in knowing that it’s mathematically impossible that Earth contains the only life in the Universe. We cannot be alone. Somewhere out there are other beings who are looking into the skies in the direction or our own star or our galaxy. Perhaps then the question should be this – if you look at the image of Andromeda Galaxy and pretend for a moment that this is our Milky Way as seen from there, which one of those tens of thousands of stars in that one photograph would you say is the star the Earth, and all her sister planets, orbits? You can only pick one. When you pick that one star, just think… that’s us. You are there.

Perspective. It does a body good.

[button link=”http://www.nasa.gov/content/hubble-s-high-definition-panoramic-view-of-the-andromeda-galaxy/#.VLFGGM3d-Ak” bg_color=”#4879a7″]View Full Resolution Photos at NASA[/button]

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