Ever Expanding Cosmos
It has taken a life journey for me to realise how big things are and how small we
actually are. We are so small that, at times, we don’t realise it. What we see around us in
our own immediate environment looks big enough. What concerns us in our daily lives
also seems large and important. But out there, above our heads, beyond the clouds and
sky, in the blackness, is something else. Something extraordinary that makes us all so
small and so ordinary.
As a kid, the most familiar surrounds were my toys, rooms in the house, the backyard,
local streets, sweet shops, school, the park and cinemas. Trips to the city centre made
me aware of distance and bigger things like banks, railway stations and large
department stores. Then came frequent trips to the seaside and views of the endless sea.
At primary school we had a large map on the wall of the British Isles. How big and
imposing it looked to us youngsters as we looked up at it. Obviously the centre of the
universe was the United Kingdom, with London at its golden centre. When I was about
seven someone gave me a stamp album. This broadened my view of what was out there.
The album had stamps in it from such then-named countries as Basutoland,
Bechuanaland, Nyasaland, Zanzibar and British Honduras and other places. The names
evoked mystery and adventure.
As I got older a larger map appeared on a different classroom wall. This one showed
‘The World,’ with the previously imposing United Kingdom reduced to a pink smudge
on the top centre. Amazingly, to my young eyes, there were countries bigger than my
own such as Canada, Brazil, Australia, India, China and something huge called the
USSR. Then along came satellites and with it pictures of ‘The World’ hanging in
blackness. ‘The World’ began to appear prominently in daily life, such as turning
dramatically before the TV news bulletins or in sci-fi films. It looked big, powerful,
regal and imposing. Before we could blink man was stepping out on the moon and
spawning more information about ‘our universe.’ It was then that I realised that there
were other worlds out there. Massive gas planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and
Neptune all dwarfing ‘The World,’ in fact making ‘The World’ look like a puny spec.
Amazingly, our world was only a small rock planet, three planets away from the sun.
All this was sobering. How small could we possibly get?
Inspired, I started looking into this space stuff. I then realised that our star, the sun,
was just one of billions of suns in our galaxy which we call the Milky Way. Discovering
where we stood in the Milky Way was also sobering. We are not even the centre of this
enormous galaxy. We, the universe, are tucked away inauspiciously somewhere in the
south-east corner of this giant, mysterious mass of blackness. Apparently, we are just
one of 200 to 400 million other universes that make up the Milky Way. But that is not
all. The nearest star to our sun is Alpha Centauri, a mere 4.3 light years away (a light
year being the distance that light can travel in a year: 5.9 million, million miles). And,
the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way is the Andromeda Galaxy, which is home to
another one billion stars, with another nearby galaxy, the Triangulum Galaxy,
harbouring a further thirty to forty more billion stars. The Milky Way, with these two
other giant galaxies, combined with some thirty smaller galaxies, is called the Local
Group Galaxies. Beyond which are more and more galaxies marshalling whatever
number of stars and planets you could care to invent. The words mind-boggling do not
do justice to what is out there.
It is amazing how it all works, how it came into existence and how small we as human
beings are in the grand scheme of things, if there is a scheme at all. No human as yet has
travelled to another planet in our own tiny solar system, let alone to another universe or
galaxy. Which only emphasises how small and possibly unique we are in this strangest
of planets in this smallest of universes, tucked away in the corner of a galaxy that itself
is but a spec in the wide expanse of the ever expanding cosmos.