There is a galaxy show at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago that pinpoints a piece of stardust in one of hundreds of billions of galaxies. That piece of dust is planet Earth, which from any point of view, except for that of its inhabitants, is infinitesimal, not only in the Milky Way but even more so in the vast sweep of the cosmos, of which mere mortals can determine barely a fraction. Countless light years beyond Hubble’s eye-in-space lie, perhaps, the still-imaginary boundary of beginnings and the eternal echo of the Big Bang, or whatever it was that started it all.
No wonder we wonder at the wonder of creation.
But when one stops to think about our “piece of dust” and its place in the grand scheme of the universe, perplexity becomes an understated understatement. If planet Earth is so infinitesimal, what are we?
Human life and intelligence rule our world; at least we like to think so. But if evolution is any kind of answer to how life progresses, the forces of “becoming” offer hope that sometime in a distant future we will be able to answer that question.
In the meantime, we are left to know what we do not know.
There is nothing original in this kind of thinking, but there is much to consider.
• Is planet Earth the only piece of dust in the universe that harbors life?
• How did God find us in the dusty swirl of galaxies?
• Do we matter to anyone other than ourselves?
• If we cannot know the beginning of things, how do we explain our “being”?
• What is the meaning of human life?
As breathtaking as the Mars probe is, it feels like we – and rover Curiosity – are exploring the first part of only an inch of outer space. Scientists find meaning and new edges in what they come to know and, gratefully, motivation in what remains to be discovered. Not being a scientist of any sort, I have the luxury of embracing not-knowing and living with the wonder of it all. I cannot imagine what having a sophisticated scientific mind might do to me.
Our place in the cosmos, in our solar system, and even here on earth, challenges our lives and stretches our intelligence. But asking questions like those above keeps me curious and roving around the terrain of my own existence. At times, the poet in me hopes the cosmic dusts of creation (and thoughts like these) do not make me sneeze.