"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Standing on the Edge

There was this night back in college – wait. Stop right there if you think this going anywhere near where you’re thinking…

There was a night back in college, at the astronomy lab, when it all hit me pretty hard –“all” meaning everything.

I had a roommate who was a lab assistant, and I’d tag along for the nightly lab classes, getting peaks at Betelgeuse or Jupiter – the night Shoemaker-Levy impacted was spectacular. I still remember the night I realized just how big the Andromeda galaxy really is to the naked eye by learning how to view it just out of the center of your vision (it’s faint, but it’s much larger than the moon, actually). Many nights were spent just lying on the grass with dozens of other students catching a meteor shower or viewing the constellations.

It was just such a night when the vast black expanse above overtook me wholly, and I felt as though I was, in fact, suspended above the void, that nothing was holding up against the ground, and that I was imminently poised to fall into eternity. It was only physically experienced as a quick gasp and mild shortness of breath for a moment, but I went home that night shaken, unable to shake the feeling of complete insignificance.

Looking back on it now, it was probably a form of depression – brought on by being a broke-as-shit music student, no doubt. The smallness of my own world – and its then-current meaninglessness - juxtaposed against the realization of how big and vast the universe really was just sorta sent me over the edge. For a few months.

I’m not kidding. I was that obsessed about it. I guess it was probably a pretty constructive form of depression, however. I just spent hours daydreaming about what it all really was. When I saw this picture, called "Pillars of Creation" and described as a “star-factory” it seemed like I lost all productivity for months. I was lost in thought about the scale of millions of light years, about the interrelated functionality of it all – of pulsars, and Supernovae, and galaxies, and black holes, and more specifically – what’s beyond it.

Everything in our universe – up to the point that we can see anyways – is interrelated and part of something bigger or contains something smaller. Is the universe really infinite? What’s beyond its expanding, growing Space? Is there really nothing beyond its outer limits? And what is Nothing? If there’s at least empty – and I mean empty space – beyond, at least that’s still something. How can there be nothing at all?

Are there other universes beyond – other Big Bangs – going on right now? In a sense then, is our Universe really universal? Wouldn’t all of it be the Universe? Many millions of universes – universi? - (and even our own so big we cannot fathom the size of it any sort of term relative to our own existence) popping in and out of existence with Big Bangs like bubbles in a can of soda?

Imagine that. Taking the time scale of our – “our”…ha – Big Bang and reducing to the length of bubble of gas.

Time is very relative. With a scope as large as the one I just described, time stretches to the point, from our point of view it isn’t even moving. Billions and billions of “years” reduced to scale of a couple seconds in relation to what could be going in context all around it. In that scale, it all becomes clear, the functionality is revealed, much like view a time-lapse film of, say, the Earth’s magnetic field interacting with the Solar Wind, looking very much like a wind sock.

Yeah, I was smoking a lot of pot back then.

So? It’s doesn’t make what I was pondering any less relevant to my own existence. And that was the ultimate point. Why I got so lost within it in the first place. And I why I was finally able find my way out of the weeds eventually.

It’s all just so beautifully mysterious. And my life, and everyone’s, does have a place in it. No matter how small and insignificant our own existence and achievements may seem in comparison. It’s all out there for us to look at, wonder at, tremble, cry, investigate, learn, and solve, and then start all over again when we get to the next mystery. A friend of mine (thanks Tim) found this that I feel illustrates the concept wonderfully.


Anyways, I’ve been watching this new show on the History Channel lately, “The Universe,” and I highly recommend it. It’s a high concept science show, yet speaking in the vernacular, in the great tradition of “Nova” and Carl Sagan’s immortal “Cosmos.”

The talking heads on it are dynamic personalities who explain the theoretical concepts in terms we all can understand, get excited about, and get a headache together while thinking about it. So far they’ve covered topics ranging from the very specific, such as Jupiter’s moon’s or the Sun, to vast, mind blowing subjects such as The Big Bang, Super-Giant Black Holes, and this week’s new topic, Dark Energy.

Their explanation of how they found the Super-Giant Black Hole at the center of our own galaxy made me laugh out loud. It’s existence was finally confirmed by the flashes of light coming at regular intervals from the area (in the constellation Sagittarius) they suspected it to be. Turns out the flashes were vast amounts of light being sucked in to the black hole, and being expelled, much as when too much water is poured in to a funnel at once. The Black Hole was literally getting clogged and shooting light back out.

“The Universe” is currently on The History Channel on Tuesday nights. It is definitely my new favorite show.

(P.S. – I import this blog into facebook, and am going to tag my smart, scientist-type friends. Y’all better have some comments.)

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