Outer space. It is in so many ways, the greatest challenge that humankind has left to face – a very real but intangible unknown for most of us. It truly is the most mysterious of frontiers.
While space exploration over the last 60 years has helped to shine some light on our solar system and its make-up, there are still many wonders out there to explore. Scientists are making progress on new discoveries every day about planets and stars both near and far, as well as the ideas that fascinate so many of us about everything beyond this spinning rock we call home.
To begin our look at things discovered – and yet to be – in the solar system and beyond, let us start relatively close to home, at least, within our own solar system. The Sun, the largest star in our solar system, and one of the reasons we’re all able to keep living here. It’s considered an average size star compared with many others within the Milky Way and beyond, and yet it is about 109 times wider than the Earth in diameter, and the Earth could fit inside the sun 1.3 million times.
What’s more, the Sun holds 99.8% of all the mass in our entire solar system. The Sun is heavier than everything else in our solar system combined, which is incredible. That’s just some of the information that we know about what’s in our own back yard, so to speak.
Beyond our Solar System
If that’s what’s local to us on Earth, can you imagine what lies beyond in the rest of the Milky Way, and even further beyond that into other galaxies? When you look at the space we know of, and the incredible numbers and seemingly impossible statistics we know about the planets, moons and stars closest to us, the things that we don’t know about what’s beyond and the extent of the beyond is awe inspiring.
The idea of the beyond, including everyone’s favourite sci-fi theory of sentient, intelligent alien life, of the outer, outer reaches of outer space, universes and even multiverses is incredible, and terrifying. It has been suggested that only 5% of the universe is visible from Earth.
It’s worth noting that the first black hole ever photographed is larger than the Earth by 3 million times and it is 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun. It is located at the center of the galaxy M87.
If nothing else, learning about space and astrophysics puts the world as we know it into some degree of perspective. When considering that most measurements in space are considered in millions, trillions, and in light years – which are themselves 5.9 trillion miles or 9.5 trillion km – suddenly the things that people in Earth’s developed countries put focus on are lessened.
People are insignificant when compared to the massive expanse of the universe. Compared with the vast expanse of space, so many of our day to day worries and grievances seem even smaller and sillier than usual. Even the possibility of little green men is smaller when set against the backdrop of the whole universe. They may be out there in another galaxy light years away, and sentient life forms may be detected and proven closer to home, but all pale in insignificance against the backdrop of the never-ending cosmos.
It is worth taking heart in the knowledge of being insignificant in the context of the universe, however. More than anything else, the idea can encourage the imagination – the universe has no known limits, so actuality why should your imagination either?
Once, putting a man on the Moon seemed an impossible dream – nothing more than a fanciful idea rather than anything that could be backed up by science. Yet now, travel to the moon is a historical fact, and the idea of consumer travel to the Moon is being considered as more than a dream but an actuality by some of the world’s richest and most famous. Holidays to the Moon? Not yet, but maybe one day.
Considering that the current aim of several the world’s greatest space agencies and companies is to send people to Mars, outside of Earth’s orbit and to another planet entirely, who knows what could be possible if we dare to dream and believe in an idea.
The universe at home
Look at the beautiful star-scapes that have been captured in satellite photography of the galaxy and beyond, replicated in the galaxy lights that we can shine on our own ceilings, are enough to remind that not only is space beautiful and vast, but also full of endless possibility, without limits. At the end of the day, so are our imaginations. So are we as human beings.
Anything is possible
Ultimately, if you take away anything from reading this article or learning about space – even if that’s just on a superficial, aesthetic level, or if you decide that astrophysics is your dream in life, or anything in between – let it be that you have as much limitless potential as the universe does.
As the universe creates and destroys on the grandest scale, so can we, in our own smaller ways. You have a dream that you’ve always wanted to pursue? Don’t let people around you tell you that it isn’t possible. Decided that you absolutely need to change something major in your life? Great – work out a feasible plan of action for how you’re going to achieve it and get started.
Don’t let the prospect of the whole overwhelm you from making a start – the Milky Way hasn’t stopped being our galaxy or our Sun burning because they are relatively insignificant. They may do one day, as everything changes, but one day so will we.
What we can do, in whatever time that we have – trillions of years or just 80 – is more than enough, and as insignificant as it is monumental all at once. Imagination is a universe all of its own, and we don’t even have to leave the house, or the planet, to discover and challenge it.