A Tweet from Find a Simpler Life inspired this essay. It simply read ‘Amazing’ and provided a link to a story on NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft taking a picture of Earth as it orbited Saturn, 898 million miles away, a week ago. I promptly responded by tweeting the ‘Pale Blue Dot,’ a picture of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft, shortly after it exited the solar system in 1990, from 4 billion miles away. Ours truly is a small, small world.
The distance between us and the stars in our night sky is beyond incomprehensible. Excluding the Sun, the closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri, 24.8 trillion miles (4.22 light years) away. It takes just over four years and two months for light emitted from that star to become visible in our night sky. The most remote star systems are 13 billion light years away. Any light from those systems seen by the human eye began traveling through space and time 8 billion years before Earth was even formed. And in some cases the starlight we see comes from stars that have long gone supernova and no longer exist.
Looking up at the stars is a humbling thing. It reminds us that we’re but a tiny part of a cosmic drama whose scope we simply cannot hope to fathom. Watching the greatest light show in the universe can really trim our sense of self-importance down to size.
It stuns me to think that the starlight we often see comes from a star that no longer exists. What we often marvel at and wish upon is the legacy of a star gone supernova. The light endures long after the source has burned itself out.
Stargazing can also remind us that Earth, and those of us who inhabit it, are small but essential pieces in an intergalactic puzzle. It can help us realize that despite our differences people are made of the same stuff and moved by the same things. The desire to matter, the yearning to belong, and the need for love are common to all of us.
So take the time to look up at the stars. Realize how impossible it is to think about how far away and ancient they are. Think about how small we really are and find humility in it. Appreciate the starlight as an enduring cosmic message and strive to create a legacy of your own. Acknowledge the intricate puzzle that is the universe and transform yourself into the best fit possible.