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Tag Archives: Hydrogen

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.

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Finally! I Gave My Secular Invocation

As I wrote about almost two years ago, I knew there would come a time when it was my turn to give the invocation at the beginning of my Rotary Club‘s weekly meeting. I won’t say I agonized over it, nor did I obsess over it. I did, however, worry about what I would say when that day rolled around. I have opted out of being the “Ratfink”, which is a role that requires the skills of a stand up comedian. I am not suited for that role. I am suited, in my less than humble opinion, to give an invocation. In fact, I really wanted to do it, as I have some thoughts about who, why, and how we are.

Actually, I became an ordained minister nearly 50 years ago, via The First Church of God The Father. It isn’t much different than the Universal Life Church, though I was actually nominated for the position and went through a very cursory ordination ceremony, as opposed to merely sending in a request. I’m not sure it exists any longer as a recognized entity. In the eyes of the State, a church is a business entity (albeit a tax-exempt one) and I am but an agent – if that – of the organization. Frankly, I did it so I could perform non-sexist, non-religious wedding ceremonies . . . and I’ve done over fifty of them over the years. Some were very interesting, to say the least.

Stellar Evolution

Example of Stellar Evolution and the Creation of Heavier Elements

I never did one that didn’t keep me up a night or two, fretting over whether or not either or both sets of parents might be offended. As far as I can remember, nobody ever was. My brother once told me a particular ceremony I did was too short, his argument being, since people are there for a ritual they want their money’s worth. Walking that thin line between too short and too long is (at least was for me) a harrowing task.

I’m so glad to have this behind me. I know I worry a little too much about pleasing people, but it’s my nature. I don’t think I’ve suffered all that much because of it, though there has been some gnashing of the teeth and beating of the breast, and let’s not forget the aforementioned occasional sleeping difficulties. Thankfully, I slept well last night (a full five hours, which is quite normal for me), but I did a final edit — and made some changes — when I got up. What follows is the text of my invocation. I wrote the first part, though it’s a riff on one of my favorite quotes, “Hydrogen, given enough time, eventually wonders where it came from, and where it’s going.” The rest is partly from other secular invocations I found online, somewhat heavily edited to fit the way I see things. The second question in Rotary’s Four-Way Test is, “Is it fair to all concerned” and to address that in the last paragraph, which also relates to one of Rotary‘s official mottoes, “Service Above Self.”

Let us be mindful of our place in this amazing universe as well as our place on this beautiful planet. As cosmic beings we have developed the extraordinary ability to wonder where we came from and to contemplate where we’re going. We are also capable of reflecting on the circumstance of our existence on this tiny blue dot floating in a vast ocean of near emptiness.

As human beings, let us be thankful for the sustenance and joy we receive from nature’s bounty and, especially, for the hard work and dedication of those who grow, harvest, transport, prepare, and serve its fruits for us. Not to mention cleaning up our mess.

May our efforts be measured through insight, undertaken with compassion, and guided by understanding and wisdom. We seek to serve with respect for all. May our personal faiths give us the strength to act well and honestly in all matters before us.

I have to add it was very well received. I was given kudos be several people, including the Director of Spiritual Care Services at Simi Valley Hospital. I was even asked to email a copy to one of our long-time members. I am both gratified . . . and immensely relieved to put it behind me, though I am sure I will be asked again. It’s a rotating duty. I’m surprised it took this long to get around to me.


The Route Home From Rotary Meetings

Alamo Street in Simi Valley

My Route Home From Rotary Meetings

Although I took this pic a year and a half ago, it’s the route I take to and from my Rotary Club meeting every Thursday morning. As I was coming home today, I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky I am. Despite the drastic change in my situation since my early, somewhat forced, retirement, I really do have a good life . . . and for that I am exceedingly grateful.

My children, alone, continue to give me so much pleasure and satisfaction, despite the difficulties associated with raising children in general, and the circumstances of the huge disparity in our ages, in particular. They have given me new meaning I never had before, and I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity I’ve been given to provide for them, as well as having the wherewithal to do so. I don’t have what I used to have, but we’re not hurting and there are still opportunities in front of me. I remain, as ever, optimistic and satisfied.

If I were religious, I suppose I would be thanking whatever deity I believed in, but I’m not, so I look out at this incredible universe we’ve evolved the intelligence to comprehend our place in and . . . mind blown! I would also say I have been blessed, but I’ll just leave it at being grateful for where I was born, who I was born to, and the opportunities I’ve been given, as well as the abilities I’ve been able to bring to bear on making the most of these things. Thank you, hydrogen and gravity. You’re pretty awesome.


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