One night at an observatory meant one impressive telescope, a sore neck from craning to look at the heavens, many words I didn’t understand, precious glimpses of the reality beyond view of the naked eye, and a lesson on our solar system that blew me away.
Did you know that there are stars that are a few hundred times the size of our sun? I didn’t. Forget twinkle, twinkle little star. More like burn, burn, gigantic ball of fire.
Take that fact about how big some of the stars are and remember that our sun is much larger than earth (where we feel dwarfed when we simply go to a big mountain) and your mind is ready to blow. We can’t conceive of the size of the known universe and certainly can’t imagine what exists that we don’t yet know about.
The theoretical lesson at the observatory ended and we marched outside to bend over the telescope. We sat in a circle around the machine, awaiting our turn to peek behind the curtain of the naked eye into the heavens.
Saturn’s rings are real — I saw them. The moon is riddled with craters. And, even under the telescope, there are groups of flaming stars that look like someone spilled salt.
Space has always scared me. The black, gravity-less unknown. It can feel like we are on a planet of life travelling through an abyss of scary nothingness.
But what do I know about it from looking up from little ol’ earth into the world of celestial bodies, gaseous planets, and ginormous stars that burn and soar?
We know nothing in the scheme of things and we don’t know what we don’t know. Maybe space is pulsing with life itself and we are living a shadow of it here on earth. What do we know?
This world is magical and glorious and if there is even more glory and fullness of life beyond what we see, what must it be like?
In C.S. Lewis’ novel “Out of the Silent Planet,” the main character finds himself hurtling from earth to another planet.
He comments on his fear of space: “Some moments of cold fear he had; but each time they were shorter and more quickly swallowed up in a sense of awe which made his personal fate seem wholly insignificant. He could not feel that they were an island of life journeying through an abyss of death. He felt almost the opposite.”
He goes on to talk about the majesty of traveling through space:
“He wondered how he could ever have thought of planets, even of the Earth, as islands of life and reality floating in a deadly void. Now, with a certainty which never after deserted him, he saw the planets—the “earths” he called them in his thought—as mere holes or gaps in the living heaven—excluded and rejected wastes of heavy matter and murky air, formed not by addition to, but by subtraction from, the surrounding brightness. And yet, he thought, beyond the solar system the brightness ends. Is that the real void, the real death? Unless . . . he groped for the idea . . . unless visible light is also a hole or gap, a mere diminution of something else. Something that is to bright unchanging heaven as heaven is to the dark, heavy earths.”
Doesn’t this imagining of space stoke your imagination?
The reality we see on earth is not the only reality. There is much we cannot see and are incapable of knowing. And I think it’s good to let my mind run wild with the possibilities of the majesty and glory and beauty and brimming life that is beyond what we see with our eyes.
The insignificance I feel before a great mountain is nothing compared to my insignificance (and even fear) before the galaxies. Yet the Being that oversees the celestial bodies was stuffed into the skin of a man —dignifying humanity, coming near, closing the gap, and bringing life. Our existence on this small planet might be minuscule but it is not overlooked, unwanted, or unimportant.