As per a short little notice in today’s local paper, NASA has come to the conclusion that our galaxy, dear old Milky Way, will collide with the neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda. Fortunately, this humongous pile up is not scheduled to happen for another four billion years or so. Phew; for a moment there I feared extinction was just around the corner.
As a race, we are all a bunch of star gazers. Admit it, you go out for a stroll on a dark summer night – or even better, a crisply cold winter night when it seems the stars hover just above your head – and at the sight of the stars you stop for a moment, crane your head back and just stand there, gazing upwards. Some of us can recognise the constellations, speaking knowledgeably of Cassiopeia or the Pegasus quadrant. Most of us don’t really care. We just stare, as enthralled by those twinkling sparkling lights as our ancestors were. And yet every single one of those starts might actually have gone out by now and we won’t even notice until four years down the line.
It sort of brings home our relative insignificance, doesn’t it? Here we are, so convinced we are somehow the crowning glory of God’s creation, and yet what are we but a minor biological life form on a minute planet in a small solar system and there are probably zillions of similar life forms out there (similar but different if you get my drift – see my blog dated April 17) on any of the billions and billions of planets that can support some sort of life. Unfortunately for us, they lie well beyond our reach, so we had better make sure this world of ours keeps on spinning in relative health, right?
Some people talk of building huge, self supportive space stations, gigantic artificial worlds that will carry its inhabitants safely across the vast expanses of space until they reach a better world, a new and pristine world. There are a number of books/movies depicting such undertakings, and generally they are futuristic and grim, with very little fun and games and very much angst and grief. I have this picture in my head of the enormous space ship taking off, and in every window is a face, nose squished flat against the thick glass as the intrepid “cosmo-colonists” stare down at the dwindling image of their world. So small, so fragile, a twirling ball of green and blue against a backdrop of darkness. If I were them I would cry. If I were them I would live out every single day of my life longing for home.
I step outside for a moment, and the June night is as dark as it gets this time of the year. The skies are not as clear as I would like them, but with an effort I can make out a star or two. Look, over there is Vega, and overhead flies the Big Dipper. I wave at them and hope they’ll be around for a very long time yet. I know, I know – a silly thing to do, right? Someone laughs, a few houses down there’s a party going on, and from the nearby road comes the sound of a speeding motorbike. Human sounds, sounds of life and continuity on this our own little piece of universe. May it remain like that for a very, very long time. At least until the Milky Way and Andromeda meet and crash.