Sunday, May 29, 2016

Stardust At the Center of the Universe

We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
-Joni Mitchell

I have been watching the PBS series, Genius with Stephen Hawking (Link) the past few weeks. It is an intriguing series exploring BIG QUESTIONS with Hawking as the narrator and guide. He directs 3 everyday people volunteers to come up with answers to these questions in interesting ways. It is all fairly straight-forward science but explained in different ways

Episode 4 the other evening was looking at the question, "Where did the universe come from?" He began by helping them get a good guesstimate of how many galaxies (not just stars) there are in the universe. (At least 250,000,000,000!) He then introduced them to the Doppler Effect and red-shift which discovered that all galaxies (in all directions) are "moving away" from us. With an ingenious use of hockey players and expanding balloons he had them illustrate how and why the galaxies that are farther away are "moving" away faster than those close to us. It also showed that, in essence the galaxies are not "moving away" but rather the space between galaxies is expanding. (Don't even try to wrap your head around that one. There's more....)

Finally with the use of tiny lights on two screens he blew my mind.

In summary he showed that depending on how you moved the screens to show the direction from which we have come, whatever galaxy you used to line it up became the center of the Big Bang. Let me state that a little differently:
  • Everything is the center of the universe.
  • Everything is the origin of where we came from.

My first thought was simply,
So! I really am the center of the universe!
Which morphed into,
And so is every person, place, and thing in the universe!

All of us started in that infinitely small and infinitely dense singularity that became the Big Bang. Every molecule, atom, whatever, was contained in that moment. All the matter and energy that exists today has existed since the beginning of the universe and was present at the beginning of the universe.

Everything, Hawking led us to understand therefore, is the center of where everything began.

More metaphorically, as Joni Mitchell wrote in 1969, we are stardust. Literally!

The "stardust" and "billion-year old carbon" that was and is the center of the universe.

No, I cannot grasp that concept very well. I can accept it, knowing that in another 50 years (or less) someone may come up with a completely new description of it. For today I simply sit in awe of the thinkers who can formulate these ideas as well as the infinite wonder, beauty, complexity, and simplicity of the universe.

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