A couple of nights ago, as sometimes happens, insomnia had me in its vice-like grip.
I nipped outside into the garden for a smoke – yes, not the best thing to do when trying to get the body into a state of relaxation prior to dropping into that weird alternative reality (sleep). And an especially bad idea after three days of not smoking in the latest attempt to give up the evil weed, but there’s little to be gained by self-castigation. Unless you’re into masochism (which I’m not). (Well, OK, maybe just a little if there’s a chocolate chip cookie at the end of it.)
The night sky was one of those rarities in this neck of the woods that, had the Earth been facing the other way it would of course have been day, and the heavens would have been a vast expanse of blemishless blue. With none of that pesky sunlight interfering with all those countless billions of dust motes in the air, looking up, I could see for miles.
OK, OK, major understatement.
I guessed the rain we’ve had recently must have washed the muck from the atmosphere, or something. I’m no expert in meteorology, I’ve really no idea at all why it was that I could see so many stars. Hundreds. Thousands. Millions? I don’t know how many stars the unaided eye can see (and no, I wasn’t about to try to count them). Let’s agree on ‘lots’: lots – and lots – of bright white pinpoints twinkling away merrily, embedded in a black velvet backdrop. Each one, a tiny sun. Well, OK, ‘huge‘, but many things are influenced by perspective, and your point of view.
As I stood there and marvelled at the sight, I realised something: my neck was hurting. I rubbed at it a bit as I continued to wonder at this uncommon view. As my eyes became even more attuned to the night, I saw a ribbon of pale white stretching above, almost touching the horizon to East and West. It’s clear to me why our Galaxy is called the ‘Milky’ Way. That ghostly, luminous splash is created by the light from a vast multitude of stars – each too far away to see individually – that form just one of the spiral arms of our galaxy.
Admiring the panorama that had, apparently, appeared for my personal appraisal in the quiet stillness of the night, I thought about the class of astronomers who call themselves ‘planet hunters’. They’re currently reporting the discovery of a new planet at the rate of about one a month. The evidence is mounting, if it’s not already conclusive, that most of those sparkling pinpricks up there husband their own families of planets.
One hundred billion stars – in our galaxy alone. Maybe ten hundred billion planets? That’s more than just a lot – that’s a big lot.
If the Bible is literal truth then (at least according to the experts in Bible interpretation) God made the Earth at the centre of the universe and put humans on it, which would mean that we’re alone.
Looking up, I thought about that and then I thought: “Nah…”
… and I went to bed humming Monty Python’s Galaxy Song :)
I had to add this link to an alternative video version I stumbled upon. It’s to a video that’s only available on YouTube, and is, unfortunately, age-restricted (to comply with ‘community guidelines’). I can understand why it might be considered inappropriate for young eyes, as it does contain some images that some might find distressing. But, although it inexplicably gets Eric Idle’s surname wrong in the end credits, it does a great job of putting an extra twist on the perspective of the scope of this song!