If you’ve never paused to look up at the sky on a clear summer night and wonder what is beyond the stars, perhaps you should do yourself the favor. What you see with the naked eye is not even a fraction of the cosmos in our own Galaxy. Not to mention the galaxies in the known universe.
But why should you care about the vastness of our universe? Here are a few thoughts. Similar to travel, exploration and pushing boundaries of what we understand as humans is essential to mental stimulation and it is ingrained in our genetic nomadic heritage. Accepting that we don’t know everything as individuals and more broadly as a species, is key to understanding humility.
I’ve brainstormed a few questions that may be valuable as you digest these mind-blowing facts about the existence outside of our tiny rock in space.
- Are we alone in the universe? If not, what form or phases of life exist knowing that humans have only existed for a glimmer of time with regards to the life of the universe? (note, the universe is about 3 times older than Earth, about 13.7 billion years old)
- What benefits will understanding the universe more in-depth entail for humanity as we continue to outgrow our planet’s resources? What will it entail for you, for generations to come?
- Can we determine the probability or chance for life outside of our planet? Is it plausible?
- What is our purpose, your purpose? (yes, this one is a bit heavier and may be a bit more philosophically-driven based your beliefs)
These are just a few of the hundreds of thought provoking questions as I wrote and researched many of these facts.
7 Mind-bending Facts
Without further ado, I present to you, the top 7 most mind-bending facts about our universe. Try to read these with an open mind, pause and reflect upon what they may mean to you.
1. Number of Stars in our Universe
The number of stars in the universe is beyond comprehension. In our galaxy alone, there are approximately 250 billion stars and our galaxy is fairly average in terms of size. There are believed to be 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. You can understand the math here but I’ll lay it out. This means there are 250 billion x 100 billion stars in the known universe which equates to 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars or 2×1022! Surely this is a number that is difficult to wrap the mind around.
If that isn’t enough, recent surveys now put that number even higher to somewhere between one and two trillion galaxies. This is up from the previous best estimate of 100 billion galaxies. Hence, this entails an increase in number of stars in the observable universe, which numbers around 700 sextillion (that’s a 7 with 23 zeros behind it, or 700 thousand billion billion).
2. Dark Matter
Everything visible to the human eye and our telescopes in the universe only makes up 15% of the entire mass of the universe. But what about the rest of the mass you ask? Scientists and Astrophysicists have determined that about 85% of the universe’s mass is comprised of ‘Dark Matter’. Dark Matter and Dark Energy is all around us but it does interact with the electromagnetic spectrum of light, therefore, we haven’t been able to visibly detect it. Dark Matter is flowing through you and I as you read this at a subatomic particle level. However, no one can seem to understand fully what this matter is yet.
3. Expanding Universe
The universe is expanding. Not only is it expanding, meaning galaxies are moving away from each other at unfathomably high speeds, but the universe is expanding at an exponentially accelerating pace. You can thank dark energy as mentioned above for this. Additionally, there exists no central point from which all matter is expanding from in the universe. For a more in depth discussion on universe expansion and the problems involved, see this article.
If the Milky Way was the size of the United States, our solar system would be the size of a quarter on that same scale. Wrap your mind around that for a moment. Next, think about the Milky Way multiplied times 100 billion and you have all of the galaxies in our universe. This notion may hurt the mind to attempt to comprehend.
5. The Age of Light
When you gaze at the night stars, you are seeing the light from however many light years away that star is. This means that each star’s light that reaches your eyes is different in terms of age and therefore, you are looking at a broad spectrum of time itself. The Hubble Telescope is able to see billions of years into the past due to the shear distance of some stars and galaxies.
6. The Drake Equation
This equation is an attempt to estimate of the number of potential intelligent life forms in our universe that we may be able to communicate with. The equation was not presented for purposes of quantifying the number of civilizations in the universe, but as a way to stimulate dialogue at the first scientific meeting on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). At a high-level, see the equation below:
To learn more, click here (source).
7. Earth from a Far
The most distant photograph of Earth was taken from Voyager 1 in 1990 at a distance of 6 billion kilometers. In the photo, our planet appears as a speck of dust against a glimmer of light from our sun. It’s almost as if our planet is simply a grain of pollen drifting in a gust of springtime wind. This really puts our significance into perspective. Here is the photo to stimulate your mind:
Hopefully these facts have brought a level of curiosity about our universe to the forefront of your mind. That being said, I also hope remember at least one of these facts the next time you’re around a campfire with your friends gazing at the stars. My intent was to spark your interest in learning more about everything around you including our universe, hopefully that is the case. If you like reading, then I highly recommend you read ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson. The aforementioned facts will not only appear in the book, but each page will blow your mind. I promise. I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Also, to explore more about how travel influences our perspective, check out my article here.