We’re song of the void, verbs of the stars.
But our day to day lives often take precedence. We go through our days fulfilling responsibilities related to our work, our personal lives, our learning. But, when the opportunity arises, sometimes we allow ourselves a deeper reflection, one that carries us to the Universe and beyond. Of all space and time and its contents – galaxies, planets, moons, stars – we find ourselves contemplating the part we play here on Earth.
We’ve searched for meaning since the beginning of mankind. Answering the old question “What is the nature of existence ?” created some of the most powerful expressions of wonder ever imagined.
Our current understanding of the Universe, from its origins and fundamental fabric, to our local condition as humans here on Earth, is a shared story of adventure and exploration. Each story is a perspective that creates a context for us to dream and imagine, to help us understand and experience reality.
The Universe, as told by Ethan Siegel
“All that is true about ourselves is nothing to be ashamed about; quite to the contrary, it’s something to be eminently glad for. This very existence is all we have, and while it’s minuscule compared to the entire Universe, it required the entire Universe to bring us to the point where it’s possible for us to exist.
Everything about existence owes its origins to something far grander than our experiences here on Earth would have us believe. Yes, it’s true that our life on Earth, stemming from the very first protocell ever to reproduce itself billions of years ago, whose heritage is encoded in the nucleic acids of every creature in existence today, provide us with a remarkable and rich natural history that managed to lead to us. Without the events of the past 4 billion years on Earth, each one of us, to say nothing of the trillions of generations of living creatures that we’re descended from, would never have existed.
But those same atoms that now make us up — that millions of years ago made up our ancestors — have been around on our planet since its birth, some 4.5 billion years ago.
And where did those atoms come from?
Practically all of the atoms we find on Earth: Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Calcium, Silicon, Sulphur, Nickel, Magnesium and Iron — over 99% of the atoms on our planet — were once inside of a star that went through its entire life cycle, consumed all of its nuclear fuel, and died in a spectacular supernova explosion.
That consumed fuel from prior generations of stars that lived and died created practically all the heavy elements — every single atom heavier than element n°4, Beryllium — that exists in the Universe today. Only after multiple generations of stars, living and dying, their fused atoms recycled into star-forming regions rich in unburned hydrogen and helium, could a star system like ours, complete with rocky planets and the ingredients for life, exist.
In order for those stars to exist, shine, recycle their elements, and eventually form successive generations containing planets, heavy elements, and life, it required a Universe full of massive galaxies, loaded with the light elements capable of forming them in the first place.
The galaxies themselves, great cosmic spirals, ellipticals, and irregular behemoths, collections of billions or even trillions of suns’ worth of matter, are the gifts of a matter-filled Universe operating under the laws of gravity. Given the history of the Universe, some small fluctuations away from a perfectly uniform density, and general relativity, gravitation ensures that you’ll get a Universe filled with hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing, on average, hundreds of billions of stars.
It took the first nine billion years of stars forming and galaxies merging and growing to set the stage to form our Solar System and the planet that we all call home. And it took the entire Universe, complete with our expanding spacetime and the laws of physics that govern everything that exists, to do it.
And what’s awesome is that — if you’re willing to start with expanding space-time and the laws of physics — a Universe that looks a whole lot like ours, complete with clusters, galaxies, stars, planets, heavy elements, and, most probably, life, is inevitable. And it’s inevitable all over the Universe.
So don’t be ashamed of what you are; be glad for all that you are !”
The cosmic perspective
“The cosmic perspective offers a bigger answer than you might expect. The chemical elements of the universe are forged in the fires of high-mass stars that end their lives in stupendous explosions, enriching their host galaxies with the chemical arsenal of life as we know it. The result? The four most common chemically active elements in the universe—hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen—are the four most common elements of life on Earth. We are not simply in the universe. The universe is in us.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson
When we look to the sky, the wonder of the cosmos surrounds us. Throughout history, space has captured the imagination of its observers, the mythology and discoveries shaping our universe and it’s mysteries; holding the secrets to our existence and our dreams for the future.
Faced by the Cosmos, one could be uplifted by the perspective of an endless Universe and the nature of life, as well as be crushed by the unfathomability of our own insignificance. Isn’t that the nature of all human contradictions ? “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
We can find contrasting emotions in almost any human endeavor. But Space seems to have a particular place in our hearts.
What are those shiny things in the sky?
How did we come to be here?
Are we alone in the universe?
For some, like many astronauts, Earth is the “pale blue dot” (Carl Sagan) that signifies all that we stand for. The overview effect is a dramatic shift in awareness from the experience astronauts often get while looking at earth from outer space. Seen from afar, this blue planet ignites deeply memorable and unexplainable emotions.
But who gets to live that way ?
The cosmic perspective comes naturally to us as children, and can be fed by our experiences in life. This initial drive to understand, a sense of wonder, a greater connection to everything – that has a profound, lasting impact on a personality. The Universe is in each of us, if permitted.
It is all about perspective and experiences. Do you perceive a gap between what makes you dream, what makes you tick, what you can do and what you should do ?
Then maybe, sometimes, a bit of cosmic perspective can help.
A cosmic perspective commands full attention and requires an open heart and mind. By understanding the Cosmos, we can ultimately better understand ourselves and give a strong background perspective to what we do and who we are.