Waiting for Halley

Published on: August 4, 2021 | Reading Time: 5 min | Last Modified : August 4, 2021

life
astronomy

I've never really been an amateur astronomer but I've always loved looking at the night sky. I've always struggled with the idea that we may be alone here. Like the universe is huge, about ninety billion light years wide 1 and the earth is about 12 thousand kilometers wide. To put that in perspective consider the following:

  • A photon takes about 8 minutes or about 0.00002 years to reach the earth from the sun.

  • A bullet on the other hand would take 17 years to complete the same journey.

  • It will take the Voyager about 80,000-90,000 years to reach the closest star cluster.

  • A photon would take more than 90,000,000,000 years to travel from one end of the universe to the other. 2

Now in the age of Jeff Bezoz and Bill Gates a thousand, a million and a billion may not seem that far apart. But if you started counting now one second at a time, a thousand seconds would not even make an hour, but a million seconds is about 12 days and get ready for this, a billion seconds is 32… years. Now read the four statements above again and just let all that sink in. Ladies and Gentlemen we are nothing but a spec of dust in the entire universe and by us I mean our planet that holds all of us. The idea that in this entire universe this little spec of dust is the only one to hold any form of thought or intelligence is unsettling to say the least.

What I feel is the opposite of claustrophobia and a weird sense of loneliness when I think of myself as a member of, probably the only group of living sentient beings. It is true that you and I or our actions or our joys and sorrows will not matter in the grand picture. We may not even be the first or the last sentient beings in the universe. I do not think that we were accidents though and you shouldn't either regardless of whether you believe in God or not. If you believe in God you already believe in the inherent superiorly of human race which is in all honesty a dumb idea. If you don't believe in God it means that everything in the world came into existence as reaction which in itself doesn't have anything accidental about it, you mix A and B you get C that's just the way universe is, we are a state in an on-going reaction at the scale of the universe. Either way we're not accidents. We're a possibility that came into existence which makes me think of all the different possibilities that had to be eliminated for me to exist. Every second in our lives is a unique link created at that exact moment from the sea of possibilities that could have been.

You can't help but feel a little special. Not because of any inherent merit of who you are but simply because you are here. We are here and alive, watching yet another night sky as the stars burn bright and black holes consume gluttonously , witnessing this single moment in time as a sentient being able to witness, perceive and feel it's beauty.

I am grateful for being alive and to be alive with others that I can love and have a sense of belonging with, to whom my life and decisions I take matter without whom even the most beautiful of the symphonies, the most awe inspiring painting and every ground breaking discovery I make would go unnoticed and unappreciated. I am worried about the how lonely we humans may be as a species of intelligent beings but at the same time I am also grateful for having other humans that add meaning to my life.

We may in fact be alone in the universe at least for now but that doesn't mean we don't have visitors. Halley's Comet is one such visitor. Halley's Comet looks like what you might call a shooting star and comes to visit us once every 75–76 years. Which means if someone gets lucky enough it's possible to see Halley's Comet twice in a single lifetime. In fact Halley's comet is the only comet with this property. Unfortunately I won't be able to witness the Halley's Comet twice. I am jealous of the generation that gets to. Imagine comparing life and humanty between Halley's one visit and the other. That must be an experience. There's also a possibility I won't ever watch it pass by which would totally suck all things considered. I do hope I get to witness the next visit though, 62 years old, still being quirky, being even more annoying about software freedom now that I am an old geezer and more importantly hopefully still surrounded by people I love.


1

Actually the Observable Universe is about 90 Billion light years wide. It is possible that the Universe is much bigger than that.

2

Even if we travel at the speed of light we probably won't be able reach the end of the universe as the universe is ever expanding and by the time we've reached the point that we thought was the 'end' of the universe, the universe would've expanded and the end will just seem further away. The only possible way to accomplish this feat would be to travel at a speed faster than the speed at which the universe is expanding which is faster than the speed of light. I am of course not going to get into general relativity and space-time simply because I don't know enough on the matter and this blog post isn't the right place for it.