To begin to measure the immeasurable is from the beginning a hopelessly futile undertaking. But as we try to comprehend things too awesome for our finite minds, let us begin with something familiar: a summer storm. The delay between the sight of the flash of the lightning and the sound of thunder demonstrates the great difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound. In one second, while sound can travel only 300 feet, light can reach 186,000 miles away. It would take sound 36 hours to circumscribe the earth – 25,000 miles – but light, in one second, could make the same journey 7½ times. Keep this concept of the speed of light in mind as we consider the universe and its amazing dimensions.
Our beloved planet, the earth, is one of 9 planets in our solar system. We revolve around the sun, which burns at 20 million degrees F. – a temperature so fierce that if a marble were heated up to the same temperature it would fry everyone and everything in a city the size of Philadelphia. Situated 93 million miles away, our sun provides the perfect amount of light and heat. Its rays, travelling at 186,000 miles per second, take 8½ minutes to reach the earth and cross our entire solar system, 6,000 million miles, in one and a half hours.
Our solar system is an infinitesimal part of the galaxy called the Milky-Way – a swirling myriad of stars estimated at 100 billion. While it takes only 1½ hours for light to cross our solar system, our galaxy is so vast that it would take 100,000 years for light to span the distance from one edge to the other. While our sun is a mere 8½ light minutes away, the next nearest star is 4½ light years from us. The light we see today actually left that star 4½ years ago. If the earth were represented by a sphere only one inch in diameter, that star (Alpha Centaury) would have to be placed 51,000 miles away. And that is the nearest star. In our galaxy alone there are over 100 billion stars. If you counted 250 of them every minute – day and night – it would take you 1,000 years to count them all. And most of them dwarf our sun in size. If our sun were hollow, I million earths could fit inside; but astronomers have discovered a star so big that 500 million of our suns would be required to fill it.
In all its magnitude and splendour, our galaxy with its billions of stars and incomprehensible size, is rather insignificant in the universe. There are actually billions and maybe even trillions of such galaxies in space – each with at least 100 billion stars. The nearest galaxy to ours, Andronema, is ½ million light years away, a distance so great if every man, woman and child in the United States had a library of 65,000 volumes, there would be more miles separating our galaxies than all the letters in all the words in all the books in all those libraries – and that is only the nearest galaxy out of billions. The most distant galaxy that has been discovered is 8 billion light years away, so far removed that it is only one millionth the brightness it would take to be seen by the human eye.
On the clearest night we can see at the most 3,200 stars in the sky, an impressive sight in itself. But consider this: a man looking up at the sky on a clear night sees as much of the universe as a protozoan – a one-celled animal – might see of the ocean in which it drifts. The moon, the planets and the few thousand stars which are visible to him are as a single drop of water in the boundless sea of the universe. Think of it – what we see on even the clearest night is as a mere drop of water in the ocean in comparison to all there is out there.
And consider this: if the distance from the earth to the sun, 93 million miles, could be represented by the thickness of a piece of paper, the distance to the nearest star would be a stack of paper 71 feet high. The diameter of our galaxy would be a pile 310 miles high, and the edge of the known universe would be a stack of paper 31 million miles high, a third of the way to the sun.
If only unbelieving man would lift up his eyes to marvel at the heavens, it would do his soul much good. For staring into the void above him, man faces concepts like infinity and eternity, where science and imagination stand together on the drink of darkness. Then indeed he can but echo the philosopher, Schiller – “The universe is a thought of God.”
And if we are awed by this created universe, how much more should we be awed by its Creator Who by the word of His power, without effort, brought it into existence where once there was nothing.
“And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.”
And this Creator desires us to walk with Him.
Compiled from various sources