NASA astronaut image of ISS and milky way

From Beginning to End

Look! Up! Up there in the night sky over St John! See the Milky Way? Spanning across the firmament, like a heavenly bridge, from south-southwest to north-northeast? And there are Jupiter and Saturn on their own trajectory, along our solar system’s plane, spanning east to west, crossing the Milky Way high up in the sky, almost coinciding with the Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius, five-thousand-or-so light-years away. And just below that, the galactic center of the Milky Way, the center of mass and gravity around which everything in our galaxy orbits. Including us.

The galactic center is thought to be not just a massive but a supermassive black hole. Once a massive or supermassive star has spent its energy, it explodes, and then collapses with such gravitational force that the other fundamental forces, which keep atoms fluffy and full of nothing, were crushed into oblivion, allowing all matter to revert to its primordial state—a space-time singularity.

At that point or time—neither of which exist anymore—all laws of physics cease. We do not know what exactly happens, but we do—or did—think that our own universe, which is so full of black holes—or singularities, started as a singularity, aka the Big Bang.

The logical follow-up question here is, do all singularities cause a big bang? If yes, are there new universes being nursed in those black holes? And if no, why not? And furthermore, why did the original singularity cause a universe, our universe? And how is it different from the singularities in black holes? Aren’t all singularities the same?

Or is the Big Bang just physics’ creation story? A myth to explain the unexplainable? For the same reason that prompted religions to create origin stories that create meaning that create a purpose for our existence?

I haven’t any answers but that doesn’t diminish my joy and sense of awe. The show that our night skies put on, with regularity, is unsurpassed in its power to humble and surprise. Twinkling stars—many of which, it turns out, are galaxies—outnumber everything. Steadfast planets with their steady glow—light from the sun, not of their own making—vie for our attention. They’re not always the brightest objects in the sky but they are, by way of proximity, a bit more comprehendible and relevant. Sometimes it’s Venus near the horizon and red Mars, sometimes, like now, it’s Jupiter and Saturn that dazzle and compete.

During predetermined times of the year, our home planet sails through space littered with the remnants of extraterrestrial visitors. A week ago, on the lookout for comet NEOWISE, we spotted lots of “shooting stars”. We might be far enough south to have been seeing the Southern Delta-Aquariids. It’s not known, for certain, which comet fell apart so close to Earth’s orbit that we can see the remnants burn up in our atmosphere as we’re sailing through its cloud, but we do so every year in July and August. In a few days, we’ll look up again, as the show is expected to peak with maybe as many as twenty meteors every hour.

We’ll continue to seek comet NEOWISE, a recently discovered, and not yet fallen apart comet from the Oort cloud. Soon, NEOWISE might be high enough up in the sky, so we can see the space traveler from the Caribbean.

At other times, and with satisfying regularity, we look up to see the International Space Station dart past in a matter of several minutes—or less. The ISS is not very high up in the greater scheme of things. It hovers just at the nexus of equal gravitational and centrifugal force where it can remain with minimal effort. At nearly 20,000 miles per hour, the ISS circles above us sixteen or so times a day, on a different track each time to cover the globe every two’ish weeks.

All that are up there jostle for attention, especially on these very clear nights, during which we can see, it seems, to the edge of the universe because the sky is so full of stars, not just the usual ones but a multitude of ever fainter twinkles, farther and farther back in space and time.

And here is one of those puzzling realizations, the comprehension, and acceptance that we’re looking into the deep past. Nobody knows how the universe looks today. We can’t know—we haven’t seen it, yet. It will take many years for the light of distant objects to travel through space, arrive in our vicinity, excite our retinas, and register with our neurons to form an understanding of what was, once, out there.

This post is still developing…

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About the author

Hi, I’m Carmen “Mica” Alex and this is my blog about science, traveling, life and anything else that’s interesting or useful.

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