In 2014 American science produced a documentary television series Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson. The information from the documentary was startling. Here are just a few of the facts from the program.
- Astronomers have determined that the age of the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old. Astronomers on earth look with their telescopes some 13.8 billion light years in every direction as observable limitation of what can be seen but not of what might really be beyond. Scientists know that the universe is expanding so that the observable universe sphere increases with the expansion.
- To understand the distances we are talking about, keep in mind that the speed of light is approximately 186,000 miles per second. A light year is the distance light travels in one year which is 5.88 trillion miles. 1 trillion is a million million million. The distances are beyond our comprehension and experience.
- The solar system consists of the sun and those objects attracted to it by gravity which include the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars; the gas planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus as well as various dwarf planets and asteroids. However it is measured it is still less than one light year across. The Milky Way galaxy has a diameter of about 100,000 light years and contains about 200 billion stars. That means that it would take 100,000 years, traveling at 186,000 miles a second to complete the diameter of our galaxy which is only one in hundreds of billions of other galaxy's. Our solar system is located towards the edge of one of the Milky Way's outer spiral arms named the Orian arm about 28,000 light years from the center.
- We human beings are literally made out of material from the stars. Almost all of the chemical elements that make up a person come from the stars. Calcium, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and of around 60 other basic ingredients make up a human being. By weight we are about 65% oxygen, 18% carbon, 10% hydrogen, 3% nitrogen, 2% calcium, 1% phosphorus and 1% other elements such as potassium, sodium, iron zinc. By the number of atoms however the proportions are 63% hydrogen, 24% oxygen and 12% carbon. The oxygen we breathe, the carbon in our muscles, the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood all are made up from material from the stars. We are made of star material.
- if we were to compress the entire existence of the cosmos to one calendar year our human life on this planet would represent about 14 seconds of that year. We have not been around very long. A great variety of life has crawled, slithered, swam and trod upon the planet Earth – from single celled organisms to giant sharks and snakes, to dinosaurs and mammals but we humans represent about only about 4.54 billion years of the existence of the universe.
- There are some 10 billion trillion stars in the universe. When we look at the night sky the star light we see has been traveling for some time. We are looking at the past, light which is just now reaching us. For example, the bright star Vega, is relatively close to us is 25 light years away which means that the light we see today left the star 25 years ago. The constellation of Orian is 640 light years away which means the light we see now left the star about 1370 during the time of the hundred years war between England and France. About 3000 stars are visible to the unaided eye on a clear moonless night. About 100,000 stars can be seen using a small telescope. A typical galaxy may contain anywhere between 10 million and 1 trillion stars.
- There is a massive diamond in our galaxy which represents the largest known diamond in the universe. This massive lump of crystallized diamond has been named BPM 37093 otherwise known as "Lucy" from the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. It is 50 light years away from us in a constellation of Centaurius. Lucy is about 25,000 miles across weighing a massive 10 billion trillion trillion carrots.
- the visible universe, including the earth, the sun, stars and galaxies – is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons bundled together into atoms. This ordinary matter makes up less than 5% of the mass of the universe. The rest of the universe is made up of a substance which scientists call dark matter and a force that repels gravity called dark energy. Scientists know little of this mysterious and invisible substance commonly called dark matter.
And, these are the facts about the cosmos. We have the same kind of incomprehensible vastness and complexity in the atoms of matter, the oceans and the earth around us. How insignificant we are in the order of things. What a gift life is for us to exist and with the ability to reason.