Ultra Deep Field Image from the Hubble Space Telescope
Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
I often find myself in idle contemplation of the universe. Looking up on a clear night, I can see about 10,000 stars, each one demonstrating to me the finite and the infinite that lies beyond our tiny planet. I think this is one of the common experiences of all humans, to look and wonder.
My interest has inspired an ongoing quest for knowledge about what lies Out There, and that knowledge has continually fed my imagination. But in the contemplation of that universe, I have also been able to frame answers to some of my more earth-bound concerns.
The universe has no fixed reference point. Everything is in motion, and the only accurate thing we can measure is how far we are from a certain object, and how fast we are approaching or receding. For people whose life is a constant measure of movement to or from a point in space or time, this is truly a difficult thing to understand. For example, in the time it takes for earth to complete one orbit of the sun, the solar system, which is also in motion, has traveled about 24 billion miles through space. When we take two weeks off from work and do the "stay-cation," we actually have traveled some 910 million miles. Too bad we can't get frequent flyer credits for that.
But the universe, and all the objects within, is not in a static condition. It's not just that stars and galaxies are in motion, they are constantly changing. With an inexpensive telescope, one can point it at the constellation of Orion the Hunter and see in the "sword" portion of that group a place that glows in molecular gases.
Within the dark cloud of the well-known Horsehead Nebula, gas and dust is being compressed and heated. Eventually, stars will form here. If you had the patience, and the lifespan, to watch this cloud, you would be witness to stellar creation.