Category Archives: Astronomy

Are We Alone?

“Is it all just for us, or do we get to share it with anyone?”

~ Paul Sutter (Astrophysicist on “How The Universe Works”)


Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is around 100,000 light years in diameter. That’s roughly 587,900,000,000,000,000 miles or 946,100,000,000,000,000 kilometers across. Those are in the quadrillions, which translates loosely into a “shitload.” The fastest man-made object—according to my research on the Intertubes—was a bit of a toss-up between NASA’s Helios 2 and their Juno spacecraft; that is until the Parker Solar Probe was launched. When it reaches its closest to the sun (in a few years) it will be traveling at approximately 430,000 MPH! That’s screaming. However, even at that speed it would take nearly 1,560 years to cross the entire galaxy.

Current estimates suggest there may be as many as 200,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe. Astronomers, astrophysicists, and cosmologists suggest our galaxy alone contains up to 200,000,000,000 stars. That’s an awful lot of stuff, eh?

The Milky Way
The Milky Way

Yet, in all of this, we have not been able to answer the most fundamental question we have about the universe . . . Are we alone? Is there life out there we just haven’t discovered? I like how astrophysicist Paul Sutter looks at it (see the quote from him, above, that I started this post off with.) I find it difficult to believe, now that we understand much of the physics and chemistry of the Universe, that life hasn’t (or won’t) evolve in places other than this one nondescript star system we call home.

Another quote I love is one I’m going to paraphrase, as the original quote, from Edward Robert Harrison, doesn’t quite provide the essence of what I’m trying to get across. His quote is: “Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people.” It almost says it all, but I think “Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas which, given enough time, begins to wonder where it came from . . . and where it’s going,” is a bit more on point.

If you are unfamiliar with, or new to, the field of cosmology you might not know what this means. Essentially, it’s refining what is the generally accepted understanding of how the Universe has evolved from nothing but sub-atomic particles to Hydrogen and, through the process of star formation (and spectacular stellar deaths via supernovae) the heavier elements have been formed . . . many of which are the building blocks of life, and us. We’re the descendants of the primal Hydrogen that made up the early universe and its first generation of stars.

To me, the concept of evolution—both of the universe itself and of life on Earth (perhaps elsewhere)—is far more incredible and truly beautiful than any origin story of any religion I’ve encountered . . . and I’ve encountered a fair number of them. Imagining the evolutionary process, which has played out over billions and billions (h/t Carl Sagan) of years is—for me—a challenging flight of fancy and an enlightening exercise in the dialectic, or zen, or yin-yang of life in this universe.

I hope one day we’ll find out we’re not alone. Perhaps that will give us the humility we need to get along with one another on this little blue dot we call home.


I Swear I Was Stone Cold Straight

I had one of those timeless moments this evening. I was on my way to pick up my vehicle, which needed some work due to a safety recall. The Honda dealership was kind enough to provide me with a creature comfort-laden Nissan Pathfinder, which I happily drove to work from the Enterprise office, and was to return to the Honda dealer, where I was headed, on the way home.

I had just exited California 118 (the Ronald Reagan freeway) at 1st Street in Simi, turning south to the dealership about a quarter mile away. As I was crossing over the freeway, the light was red and I was stopped at the apex of the arched overpass. The entire perimeter of the sky was filled with soft pink clouds, and there was a long golden streamer of cloud radiating eastward, driven by the last rays of the setting Sun. As I looked from west to east, the clouds and the edges of the sky faded from a bright to a soft pastel pink.

In the sky to the east hung an almost full Moon, its glow softened by a thin layer of clouds, and to the West a long, steady stream of vehicles moved steadily toward their destinations, their headlights forming a brilliant necklace of light. I wanted to take a picture, but a panorama would have taken time I didn’t think I had. I looked through hundreds of pink sunset pictures I googled, hoping to find something at least evocative, but nothing felt right, so I have nothing but my memory . . . and the experience.

The whole moment lasted about 10 seconds, but it was extraordinarily beautiful and felt timeless. It wasn’t all that different from some other similar experiences; after all, it was just a sunset, the Moon (yawn), and moderate freeway traffic, yet it felt eternal (for a moment 🙂 ). Weird, huh?


Want Something to Worship? Try This

Instead of attending services — whether in a Church, Synagogue, Mosque, or Temple — watch this. It’s far more powerful than any scripture I’ve ever encountered.


The Helical Model of our Solar System

Picture our solar system hanging in space. What is it you see? Planets in nearly circular orbits, revolving at varying speeds around our central star, the Sun? What we don’t usually see is a depiction of what these orbits look like when you also factor in the movement of the Sun around the gravitational center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and the vortex-like movement of the planets as they get dragged along behind it. This animation takes our star’s galactic motion into account as well, and the paths are much different than what we ordinarily see. Take a look.

Pretty cool, huh?


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