Wednesday, January 7, 2009

101 Interesting Things, part 1: The Antenna Galaxies

The Antenna Galaxies are a reminder that, in the grander scheme of things, we ain't shit. I mean, if you think you've got a dust problem behind your couch, you should see the dust clouds kicked up by a galactic collision.

Seriously.

These two galaxies have been colliding for hundreds of millions of years, orders of magnitude longer than all of recorded human history. They will continue to collide for hundreds of millions more years, in all likelihood well after we have died out and all traces of our civilization have disappeared wholly from the cosmos.

During this time, the scale of which is far beyond the human mind to truly grasp, events have been transpiring which are orders of magnitude grander than anything that could possibly happen on Earth - the reason is nothing to do with Earth or its inhabitants, but the simple fact that these events would destroy our world utterly.

These inconceivably epic collisions between all manner of celestial body have been happening always and everywhere on a stage far grander than any our species has ever known. If every single event of every history book of every nation were to be reenacted simultaneously, each upon a separate life-sized stage of its very own, all of these areas together would not even register on the above image, which is itself but a single moment in time that took forty-five million years just to reach our eyes.

In short, we can't even understand how much greater this is than even our ability to understand things in the first place.

The Antenna Galaxies are, in every conceivable way, utterly beyond our comprehension. We simply never deal directly with anything on a scale even remotely close to this size - not time, not distance, not force, not anything. If there existed a god, then surely this would be a prime candidate for the focus of divine attention: the magnificent story of two galactic formations swimming inexorably towards each other through the inky blackness, pulled by nothing but the universal force of attraction into a celestial mating dance of truly epic proportions.

Compared to this, all of humanity is but the blink of an eye upon a speck of dust in the next room over. We think we're hot stuff, all right, but even our invented gods were so petty and parochial as to be utterly ignorant of this truly grandiose phenomenon. Not one holy book mentions the antenna galaxies - one would think that a god would take notice, or at least want to show off its handiwork.

At any rate, I think it can safely be said that the Antenna Galaxies are well and truly interesting. To find out more, check out the Wikipedia page or my source for the above image.

This post was featured in the 31st Humanist Symposium.

4 comments:

Moody said...

Those who don't find themselves awed by what goes on "out there", or humbled by the apparently infinite richness of the variety of life right here on earth, are people I feel profoundly sad about. That so many of them happen to believe that they are the center of all attention and the "Most Important Creation"(TM) compounds that sadness with disgust.

Give me Carl Sagan and Charles Darwin any day. Give me Einstein and Marie Currie. Give me those whose vision reaches beyond all ego into the understanding that we are but the tiniest conscious motes in an effectively infinite sea of grand happenings. We should feel grateful for being here to see it. But we must share that gratitude alone, with each other, and turn it toward being worthy of its measure. Nor must we ever expect or allow the conceit of thinking that somehow it's there for us.

D said...

Thanks for the comment! I wholeheartedly agree: I have long thought that any inability to appreciate the grandeur of the natural world was simply for want of education. Your call to action is also heartening.

Moody said...

I think you'll appreciate this. It's from my old LiveJournal. I'm going to repost it in my current blog (perhaps with some edits) soon, but I thought I'd give you the link to the original.

Anyway, I hope all's well with your world.

D said...

Wow. That was really well-written. Thanks for the link, and hooray for math!

Things are going pretty well on my end, thanks! And I hope things are well on yours, too.