The Perilous Place….

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Yesterday I discussed our almost incomprehensible and insignificant place in the universe.  Today, the dangers.  Although a lonely place, spanning unfathomable distances, our solitude provides little safety on the third rock from the sun.  Recent events in Chelyabinsk, Russia, were an unwelcome reminder of our homes vulnerability in the universal tapestry.

The human species has an uncanny way of skipping along its path almost obliviously meandering through social, work and family affairs.  While we are busy arranging a get together, that important meeting or watching the television we forget that we dancing round our nearest star, the sun, at around sixty six and a half thousand miles an hour and that a few doors down between neighbours Mars and Jupiter looms the asteroid belt.  Objects from this chain of space junk, often collide and change path moving off in any number of directions.  We also forget that more space junk like comets and more asteroids from deeper space are doing their own little mindless dance on their own paths.  I’d hazard a guess the thought has rarely crossed your mind.  And particularly the risks they pose to us.

Have you ever driven your car under a bridge that holds a train above you or a series of motor vehicles buzzing away in other directions and as you pass under it thought ‘if we were on the same level I would have just missed that e.g.. car or worse, collided with it?’.  Consider that your microcosmic model for the the universal big picture.

Asteroids can range in size from tiny grains of space dust to ‘global killers’ spanning tens of miles.  Needless to say a collision with the latter would be extremely damming for the blue planet.  Don’t get me wrong, many smaller asteroids burn-up as they enter our atmosphere and do us no harm, but others as in the case of the Russian incident get through and cause death and destruction.  The threat is a real one.  What could happen if something big enough hit I’ll discuss tomorrow, but I promise, It’s not a good news folks.

Our glorious insignificance; lonely but perilous

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One of the many things I often ponder is arguably one of the most sobering but very real truths in life.  Our insignificance.  When I say our, by that I mean humanities.  Stop for a moment.  Think this through with me.  Our galaxy, the Milky Way (also a very yummy chocolate bar), is particularly ordinary.  It’s of average size as galaxies go; about 120,000 light years across and contains around 400 billion stars.  Although the scale is overwhelming to contemplate insomuch as light (that travels at around 187 thousand miles a second in a vacuum)  would still take an astonishing 120,000 years to do one length of our intergalactic pool, this ‘normal’ spiral galaxy is extremely ordinary.

Let’s boggle your head a little; astronomers claim there to be 170 billion galaxies in the ‘observable universe’, by which they mean, just in the bit they can see.  This infers quite strongly that there is lots and lots more they can’t see, containing many many many more galaxies.  Now, some galaxies have upwards of a trillion stars in them.  As I already mentioned, ours has ‘only’ 400 billion.  When we times the number of galaxies in the observable universe i.e. 170 billion by the average number of stars in a galaxy, we shall take the figure in ours having already established it’s ordinary nature, 400 billion, we can come up with some kind of an estimate as to how many stars there are in the observable universe.  Here’s the number;

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  Apparently this number is one septillion.   

There is plenty of debate as to if the universe carries on forever and ever, or is finite.  Given the former, we can safely add a few more zeros to this figure and still be nowhere close to the accurate answer.  But as far as the part of the universe that we can see, this number is a good enough indication for my point.  Now, our sun, just one very average star, has 8 planets orbiting it.  One of those is us… the Earth.  Of the other 400 billion stars in our galaxy, there could very easily be many more earth like places, probability would have it that there is.

Even if there wasn’t, what of the other 170 billion galaxies that we can observe (not counting the ones we can’t remember) and the stars in each of those?  What are the real chances of us being the only ones?  Probability ways heavy here and points to favourable odds for other ‘life’.

Tomorrow; the perilous part…. insignificant or not.

Notable mention to creative force; if there is such a thing, s/he is very wasteful indeed.  I can only compare this to making 100 sponge cakes and eating just the one.  Curious.