Is there anybody out there?

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.

Slight understatement.

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!

[26Sep2021: Post updated with minor revisions following fabulous feedback from Goldie of the ?Random Raiders!]

About peNdantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, consciousness, Music, Science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Is there anybody out there?

  1. Julie-Marie says:

    Your blog made me smile like this —->>>>      >:o)))))))) 
    Very funny & since you made me laugh so much I shall name a star after you :)
    I shall name it \’Colin\’ ….. why??? I don\’t know….random name :)
    Thanks for dropping by & leaving a comment on my \’shit\’ blog he he
    Have a fab weekend


  2. Chatty says:

    Spankingly good! Went out to look for the milky way; it was raining so had a snickers instead :) 


  3. jane says:

    Wow Colin u know a lot about stuff !
    loved the Eric Idle Galaxy song, loved the alternative one…….. I think he looks a bit like Willy wonka. a bit maniacal… its the pink suit and hair ……
    I thought you were going to blog about all the meteor activity we have had this last week, I  haven\’t seen any, a friend told me about it, apparently the one night it was beautiful, she saw loads,  the sky was really clear..  
    I have just googled this. its about the meteor\’s

    August 11th to 13th: View the Perseid Meteor Shower

    A Perseid Meteor
    Image: S. Kohle and B. Koch, Astronomy Institute, Bonn University.

    If it is clear on the 11th and 12th of August, one will have an excellent chance of seeing the meteors in the Perseid Meteor Shower – the year\’s most dependable meteor shower.   The great news this year is that the shower corresponds to New Moon so there will be no moonlight to hide the fainter members of the shower!   Let\’s just hope that by then the clouds that covered the UK for almost the whole of July will have gone.   Look up towards the North-East from 10 pm onwards on the nights of August 11th, 12th and 13th.   After midnight, as Perseus rises higher into the sky, the numbers seen may well rise too!   Most meteors are seen when looking about 50 degrees away from the "radiant" (the point from which the meteors appear to radiate from) which lies between Perseus and Cassiopea.   (See the star chart below)   The Perseid meteors are particles, usually smaller than a grain of sand, released as the comet Swift-Tuttle passes the Sun.   The shower in quite long lived, so it is worth looking out any night from the 10th to the 15th of August.   Good hunting!
    we didn\’t go camping in the end, the rain got the better of us..
    Take Care, jane xxxxx 


  4. Deb's says:

    Hi Colin…
    thanks for calling in and perservering with my blog….they aren\’t all that long… it never ceases to amaze me how many people are put off by a slightly lenghty blog….lol  i first encountered the milky way in Utah… during our (the hubs and i) in 2001, hadn\’t seen it before and haven\’t seen it since.. too much in the way of light poluution…in our neck of the
    well loved the blog.. and have a wonderful day
    Debs  :))


  5. Sally Ann says:

    Excellent. It almost justifies smoking.You have obviously got less light pollution than I do here.  However, I\’m just buying a narrowboat to live on then I\’ll be out in the sticks where I should get a better view. May even treat myself to a telescope.I saw the Milky Way best lying on my back on a pub garden bench in North Wales (after the pub had emptied).  I looked out for it in Western Australia, but to be honest the sky was so thick with stars I couldn\’t make anything out at all.  Although I think I found the Southern Cross.Fab post, keep up the good work.BTW, the Galaxy Song is one regularly I murder on my ukulele.


  6. Pingback: A special place in the universe | Wibble

  7. The second link asks me to confirm my age. What did you link to? But, it made me feel flattered. No one seems to ask me for my ID these days :(

    The stary sky is definitely a stunning view. One that makes me hold my breath and exhale all at the same time. It relaxes me and fills me with hope. I haven’t stargazed in too long.

    Did you quit smoking?


I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s