What is there to do on a rainy, blustery afternoon when reenacting Dorothy and Toto isn’t your cup of tea? Well, I parked myself at the computer and blew my own mind — just for the fun of it. By reading about light-years. I understand the term in the layman’s sense, meaning a loooooooong way. The practical meaning, however, had eluded me.
A light-year, I learned, is the distance a beam of light travels in a single Earth year, which is about 6 trillion miles. That’s 6,000,000,000,000 miles, give or take. In 1 year. Obviously, that’s incomprehensible and mind boggling, but wait, it gets better.
You know the images we see from the Hubble telescope? The distant stars and dazzling galaxies, the supermassive black holes being ejected by their host galaxies, the dust storms on Mars and new moons of Pluto? Those are a look back in time. Those events happened eons ago. But it took until now for the light of those distant objects to find its way to Hubble and then to us. The farther away a planet or galaxy is, the farther in the past we see it.
BREAKING: The universe is not what it looks like to the naked eye.
And that blew my little pea-pickin’ mind.
Think about it. In the millenniums it’s taken for their light to make the journey to us, those stars and planets and galaxies could’ve been sucked into a black hole. Or collided with a meteor. New ones might’ve been born. There could be thriving civilizations out there, with bustling populations of intelligent life forms all over the place. Anything’s possible; we just don’t know. Skeptical? Then imagine what Earth looked like billions of years ago, before humans, when it was fresh and flourishing. Compare that with what it looks like now — paved, depleted, exhausted, and heading toward a sixth mass extinction event.
Now, I admit, I came regrettably late to science. It is an exotic and darkly mysterious subject, with its quarks and neutrinos and photons. And it’s Klingon to me, poetic gibberish. I’m not even close to fluent. So, beware, my thinking here could be laughably flawed. However, if I’m wrong, I’d rather not know. I ♥️ the idea of a clean, lively universe teeming with advanced, carefree lifestyles and Jetson-like inventions. So, please, don’t burst my balloon.
I’m fairly confident I have a firm grip on the basics, though: gravity exists, Einstein’s smart, atoms are building blocks of matter, the world is round, and Earthlings better get on the damn stick or we’re toast. Comprende?
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