In a few months, I’ll be taking my thirteenth trip to Australia to compete in a couple of triathlons and participate in a series of events with co-author Grant Donovan of Australia promoting our new book, “The Wellness Orgasm: The Fun Way to Live Well and Die Happy.”
I love so many things about Australia. It’s always a pleasure to be there, but one thing about visiting I truly dread are the flights to and from Australia from the American West Coast. The distance from Los Angeles to Sydney, for example, is 7,497 miles. The flight takes about 17 hours-I always feel like a zombie by the time I arrive. However, that voyage pales in comparison with the time needed to reach some places. Just guess how long it would take to fly to an exotic vacation resort 5.88 trillion miles away. Go ahead-make a guess.
The correct answer is one light year. Alas, no mode of transportation quite reaches that speed-only light does.
A Little Perspective
Consider this-there are more than 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and there are at least 100 billion galaxies. Try to compute how many stars that get you, and don’t bother estimating the number of planets that must be revolving around all of those stars! Just thinking about it makes my head spin, and these numbers only account for galaxies and stars in the known universe.
So, isn’t it kind of strange that no god of any religion, including the current sky god of modern-era Abrahamic religions, ever referenced the immensity of the cosmos? No bible or other holy book provides perspective on the extremely microscopic place Earth represents in the grand scheme of things. The Vatican had our sun going around the Earth right up until the 16th century. It makes me wonder about the differences in reliability between science and religions as sources of knowledge about reality.
Our galaxy’s 100,000 light-years side by side. Most of us non-professional astronomers know this from hearing Eric Idle’s “The Galaxy Song,” featured in Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life” movie.
Eric Idle’s “The Galaxy Song” Critiqued
Paul Kohlmiller wrote an essay for the San Jose Astronomical Association that examined each line of Eric Idle’s “The Galaxy Song.” He wanted to see how it held up after decades of advances in scientific knowledge about the universe. Before noting how accurate it was at the time, have a listen to the song, as it was a song by Eric Idle in the movie:
Here then is each line of the song and Mr. Kohlmiller’s assessment of the extent that these lyrics have held up over the years.
* “Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving” – Yes, still revolving and life on the planet is still evolving, creationist claims to the contrary.
* “and revolving at nine hundred miles an hour” – Earth’s rotation is once daily and its circumference varies from the Equator, but 900 mph is close enough.
* “That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned” – That’s still pretty close to true.
* “A sun that is the source of all our power” – Well, the sun is responsible for all wind, hydroelectric, coal and oil and solar power. Maybe not uranium but still all true.
* “The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see are moving at a million miles a day” – It’s a tad more than 6 million miles per day.
* “In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour” – The first part is spot on, the second (at the new figure of 6 million miles daily) part would now be 250,000 MPH.
* “Of the galaxy, we call the ‘Milky Way'” – It’s still called that and not likely to be renamed anytime soon.
* “Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars” – Some astronomers suspect there might be a bit more but Idle number still holds up well. While there have been some estimates that are a bit higher than 100 billion stars, this is still a pretty good estimate.
* “It’s a hundred thousand light-years side to side” – Give or take 20,000, this remains the current estimate.
* “It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light-years thick” – Estimates vary widely from 10 to 30 thousand light-years for the middle of the galaxy.
* “But out by us, it’s just three thousand light-years wide” – Check.
* “We’re thirty thousand light-years from galactic central point” – Check
* “We go ’round every two hundred million years” – Check
* “And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions” – Oops. The current thinking is there are “only” thousands of billions but the astronomers are still counting.
* “In this amazing and expanding universe” – Check.
* “The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding in all of the directions it can whiz.” – Check
* “As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know” – This one’s a bit tricky. As Kohlmiller explains: “But matter cannot generally move at the speed of light so the speed of the expansion is somewhat less. On the other hand, there was a time in the early universe where it seems it did expand at a speed greater than the speed of light.”
* “Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is” – Check
* “So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure, How amazingly unlikely is your birth” – Kohlmiller: “The human genome project has found 30,000 genes. It would take only 33 genes to make every living person unique.”
* “And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space” – Kohlmiller: “Hence my membership in Team SETI.”
* “Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth” – Kohlmiller: “An unassailable truth.”
Well, if these facts about the universe and our modest place in it does not give you pause or evoke a healthy WO, you might want to play the song one more time.
Be well and, more than ever, look on the bright side of life.