Humbled by the Stars

by Anthony Marr

I love star gazing. When, during the day, we are submerged in our little worlds where egotism confronts narcissism, and greed mingles with corruption, and hatred collides with contempt, even when need wears the disguise of love, the vast skies of night always restores my equilibrium, redefines my existence, and even brings “The Almighty” down from “His” one-storey pedestal.

When I look upward, more exactly this tiny piece of the planet Earth that is me looking outward, my naked eyes can discern a few thousand stars at most – the nearest several thousand to the one named Sol, our magnificent Sun, all nearer than a few thousand light years distant, in this tiny local stellar neighbourhood of the galaxy Milky Way, or Silver River in my native Chinese tongue, and nothing but darkness beyond. And even so, they make me feel incredibly small, and immeasurably insignificant. What in this already vast scheme is the largest human ego worth?

But then, when I choose a constellation, any constellation, say, Orion, and look at it through nothing more powerful than a 10X-power pair of binoculars, I see thousands of slightly farther stars in this small sector alone, and this goes for all constellations, though all still within our Milky Way Galaxy. If I aim the binoculars in the right direction, at the Andromeda constellation, I would see something different – a slightly elongated object – the nearest galaxy named Andromeda 2.5 million light years away. Then, my mind would come into play, and tells me that our own Milky Way galaxy, and its closest neighbour Andromeda, are but two of the millions, no, billions, of galaxies in the observable universe alone.

And what is the Observable Universe?  It is a human concept, and it is greater or smaller, depending on the Time of Man.  A thousand years ago, when Chinese and Arab astronomers observed, in 1054 AD, the latest supernova explosion which became the Crab Nebula today, ithe then observable universe comprised just those same several thousands of stars that I can see with my naked eyes on a clear summer night in 2012.  When Galileo created his telescope in the 17th Century, the observable Universe became expanded by 10-fold, with a thousand-fold number of stars.  And now, with our Hubble telescope, hmmm, how shall I put it?

I’ll try this way: Aim Hubble at an apparently empty part of the night sky, max out its magnification to gaze deeply at a spot no larger than a single mote of dust to our naked eye, and expose it night after night on a photographic plate for 10 days, a photograph like the one shown here will emerge, revealing thousands of galaxies in deep space – a Hubble deep field – each galaxy as gigantic as our own Milky Way.

The Observable Universe today is about 156 billion light years across containing no fewer than 100 billion galaxies, each comprising 100-500 billion stars like Sol our Sun. What lies beyond it is anyone’s guess, and I doubt that our own very mundane deities, one of which being believed to have created “the heavens and the Earth” in 6 days but 6 thousand years ago, when the light from any one of these distant galaxies has taken well over 13 billion years to reach Hubble, would have the slightest idea.

Then come tomorrow, I will deal again with the shark-fin-soup slurping MP, and lying politicians, and animal abusers, racists, speciesists and back-stabbers.

Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC)


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