Thoughts from a tiny corner of our Universe

It’s tempting sometimes to look across the night sky at the array of stars out there, and wonder whether or  not there is other life in our Universe. And if so, what is life like out there?

It’s a question that has preoccupied humans for centuries, but which has never been solved.

Scientists have made impressive strides toward determining whether or not other solar systems could support life, however. Using advanced technology, they have now been able to pick out more than 300 planets circling other stars out there in the distance. Most of these planets have been “gas giants”, similar to Jupiter and Saturn in our solar system.

However, earlier this year, signs showed up of a rocky planet circling a star called Corot-7, about 500 light years from Earth. Planet Corot-7b is too hot to support life, however, with tomorrow’s daytime high estimated at a scorching 1,000 to 1,500 degrees Celsius — hot enough to melt copper.

Though the search for planets has become easier, the search for life remains more difficult.

Perhaps it is possible that someday we’ll pick up a faint radio signal from a distant planet, or that they’ll pick up a signal from our planet. However, it has been only about 90 years since high-powered radio broadcasts began here on Earth.

With our own galaxy being about 100,000 light years across, these radio signals traveling out into space are only just starting to leave our galactic back yard after all those years, and won’t even be out of the neighbourhood for another two or three thousand years.

To put the vastness of the Universe into perspective, imagine yourself standing in front of the Richardson Building, at Portage and Main, with a tennis ball in your hand.

That tennis ball represents the Sun. (The bright thing in the sky, not the newspaper.)

The Earth orbits a mere 7.2 metres (23 feet, 7 inches) away — six billion people and all the world’s continents reduced to a tiny sphere with a diameter of six-tenths of a millimetre.

Neptune and Pluto continue to orbit out on the fringes of the solar system. Relative to our tennis-ball Sun at Portage and Main, Neptune is about the size of a mere pebble out by the intersection of Main and Graham.

To get to our nearest neighbours in the galaxy, you’d have to get on a plane to Minneapolis, make a connection to Washington, D. C. and then take a taxi out to suburban Bethesda, Maryland. Once you get there, you’ll be looking for a ball of light slightly smaller than a marble. That’s the star Proxima Centauri, the next-closest star to Earth after the Sun. Near it are the larger Alpha Centauri A and B.

The nearly 2,000 kilometres between Winnipeg and Bethesda would represent the dark, cold, silent emptiness between the Sun and Proxima Centauri.

Even if you took a longer trip to Sydney, Australia, it would still only take you the equivalent of 31 light years from our tennis-ball Sun. In celestial terms, 31 light years is considered “local”. Only a small number of stars are that close to Earth.

To find life out there in our great, vast Universe, we are possibly looking for that one star in a billion or even a trillion — or more — that has just the right conditions to support life.

With our galaxy containing about 200 billion stars by more conservative estimates, a one-in-a-billion incidence of life might mean that our galaxy is home to hundreds of planets that support life.

And our average-sized galaxy is thought to be just one of at least 100 billion galaxies in the Universe.

A one-in-a-billion incidence of life in the Universe would still leave room for 20 trillion planets harbouring life in our Universe.

Even if only one in a trillion stars have life within its solar system,  it’s plausible that ours might be just one of 20 billion worlds in our Universe — three for every man, woman and child on Earth.

The next time you look up into the night sky, give some thought to the fact that in the bigger scheme of things you, I and more than six billion other human beings are essentially sharing a tiny speck of dust.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

2 Responses to Thoughts from a tiny corner of our Universe

  1. Fat Arse says:

    Thanks a lot, and here I thought I was done with acid flashbacks! Your post seems to have caused a cosmic disruption in my gray matter and drawn into question the stability of my psychic sub-structure.

    Until tonight I used to maintain that I had actually once teleported myself (c.1982) into the universe and had personally circled Proxima Centauri with nothing on but a ragged toga, a Walkman playing the Doors ‘This is the End’, 3 gm. of shrooms and case of Extra-Old-Stock stubbies! Clearly, I now see I how mistaken I have been … only gone for three days… guess it was just in Maryland after all!

    You write this with a lava lamp on high and Tangerine Dream playing in the background?

    Good Post.

    re: “A one-in-a-billion incidence of life in the Universe would still leave room for 20 trillion planets harbouring life in our Universe.” WOW, simply, WOW!

  2. theviewfromseven says:

    LOL — that gave me a good laugh while checking my Inbox this morning! I swear I wasn’t drunk, stoned or otherwise impaired when I wrote that post.

    I don’t know much about Bethesda, but there might be psychic sub-structure disturbances happening there due to its proximity to Washington, D. C. (all politics, all the time) and to Baltimore (motto: “We’re nicer than Detroit”).

    I won’t even get into the possibility of parallel universes, which physicists are seriously beginning to investigate. That’s stuff that’s too difficult to understand without an advanced physics degree or a bong (and I have neither!)

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