Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Awe, Wonder & Stardust

When the shy star goes forth in heaven
All maidenly, disconsolate,
Hear you amid the drowsy even
One who is singing by your gate.
His song is softer than the dew
And he is come to visit you.

O bend no more in revery
When he at eventide is calling.
Nor muse: Who may this singer be
Whose song about my heart is falling?
Know you by this, the lover's chant,
'Tis I that am your visitant.

James Joyce, When the Shy Star Goes Forth In Heaven

I can recall a night many years ago, clear and bitter cold on top of a mountain near the border with North Korea. It was a cloudless night, and no artificial light could be seen. I remember looking up into the night sky and just being awed by the brilliance. It was a black infinity populated endlessly by tiny points of varying colors of light. It was very different from the sky one normally sees in America, where the brilliance of the sky is washed out by artificial light. It effected me on such a visceral level that, to this day, whenever I look to the night sky, I am left in awe and wonder, pondering the universe, our world, and our being.

The "Big Bang" theory developed by the Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaitre tells us that, 14 billion years ago, all energy and matter in the universe expanded from a single point.

In time, gasses and dust coallesced, and in that mix, stars were formed, stars that then clustered into galaxies.

It is impossible to truly comprehend the size of what the Big Bang unleashed. There are probably more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable Universe, stretching out into a region of space 13.8 billion light-years away from us in all directions.

Our own corner of this immensity is the Milky Way galaxy.

Heavy elements formed in the most massive stars. And when those stars collapsed to a critical mass, they exploded in a supernova, spreading their elements throughout all of space.

And the stardust from those explosions coalesced to form our own planet.

We sit atop that ball of stardust, spinning around its axis at 1,037 mph, spinning around the sun at 66,660 mph, and in a solar system that is travelling at 514,000 mph around the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The feeling of standing still is an illusion. Yet stand we do, and look out into the heavens from where we came.

We are not merely looking at the stars, we are them. We are composed of stardust. From whence came the spark of life?

Whenever, at night, I look to the sky, it is with awe and wonder.

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