Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Turns out the night sky is no big deal 

Do you feel important? Do you feel big? Well, here's an article to put your insignificant life in perspective.

Nah, not really. But it's still humbling to think that on a clear night, away from any lights, as you stare up at the heavens, you won't see:

- The over 100 billion galaxies that make up the universe, or

- The over 300 billion stars that make up our own galaxy, or even

- The over 8,000 stars visible from earth.

No, you'll see, at most, 2,500 of them at any given time, under ideal conditions. The vast majority of the human race will never see anything outside one tiny corner of our own galaxy, itself a tiny corner of the vast heavens.

I've always known this intrinsically, but to have it expressed in raw numbers... Wow.

But none of that takes away from the sheer beauty of the night sky. More than once I've found myself staring at the heavens, thanking God for creating something so magnificent.

And I believe there are few sights more stunning than the stars at night, viewed from a ship at sea, hundreds of miles from any significant human settlement. There were some quiet nights on the bridge of the aircraft carrier, with no other ships around, and nothing to do but maintain a constant course, when, after the quiet conversations went silent, I would slip out from the darkened pilothouse onto the bridge wing outside, and simply get lost in the stars. If you have never seen a night so dark, so full of stars, and so calm that starlight shimmers in thousands of streaks across the sea, reflected the way moonlight is in other, more pedestrian places, then you have never really known how it is to feel at once humbled by the beauty of God's creation, reduced to a tiny speck in the vast universe, and intimately a part of both.

Knowing that I have only seen, and will only ever see, an infinitessimally small fraction of all that is out there... well, that makes the whole experience even more wondrous.
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