Thanks Ass-tronomers – could you make a guy feel any more insignificant? Just when I was getting comfortable with my place in the 200 billion galaxy cosmos, suddenly it’s 10 times larger thereby making me 10 times smaller. Although we live in an expanding universe, I prefer the tidiness of a static universe. A reliable place with a finite number of galaxies operating with exacting Newtonian mechanics. A place where video solitaire can tranquilize an entire nation and live streaming can mean different things; depending on if you’re watching Netflix or recently drank 2 cups of coffee.
We are born purposely unaware of the universe’s enormity. That’s just the way it is. And it is that way so we’re better able to focus on the tasks at hand. For example, one time I had to return a substandard chicken pot pie I’d purchased at Costco. They have a very generous return policy – too generous. In fact I had already eaten it and I returned it in its digested form – and they still took it back. And if you think that’s bad, the lady in front of me returned a 7-layer guacamole dip – also eaten. The Costco Scatological Return Specialist could only identify 5 of the layers, so instead of a full refund, they issued her a store credit for 5/7ths of the price – unbelievable. My point is, if I was overly aware of the goings-on in the Magellanic Cloud Galaxy, I might’ve been completely unaware of Costco’s generous return policy and I would’ve missed out on a good deal, and an even greater story. So we come to understand how it pays to not have our head in the clouds – particularly if they’re Magellanic Clouds.
I was close. I almost had my mind around the 200 billion known galaxies. I was just starting to incorporate that unfathomable number into my cerebral architecture until the rug was pulled out from under me – like the moment it was revealed Darth Vader was actually Luke’s father. Similarly, my revelation that the universe had increased 10-fold was the opposite of an Aha! moment. It was more of an Oh, sh*t! moment. I mean sure I’ll have more places to put stuff, but now I need more stuff to put places. In actuality though, I’m the one who needs to be put in his place – very confusing. Thanks a lot Hubble telescope. Sometimes ignorance is a comforting option.
This Story Continues to Expand, 10 Times its Original Size. As Above, So Below.
Galaxies range in size from Dwarf Galaxies, with a paltry few billion stars, to Giant Galaxies with a stout one hundred trillion stars. But to balloon from 200 billion galaxies (unfathomable) to 2 trillion galaxies (incomprehensible) is well…imponderable. With the sheer number of stars in the universe and the probability that life is superabundant, the question then becomes not “Are we alone in the universe?” but “Can a guy get some cave time? Jesus, you can’t swing a cat around here without knocking into something.”
Just to put this outsized order of magnitude into some perspective; 2 trillion is like taking all the Starbucks in Manhattan and closing half of them. That’s how many galaxies would be left. Two trillion looks like this: 2,000,000,000,000 or 2 X 1012 or the number of e coli in 3 inches of large intestine. It’s impossible to convey the enormity of this number unless you’ve had course work in exponents or a recent colonoscopy.
There’s No Place Home (Our Cozy Little 100 Million Light Year Diameter Galaxy)
Our little slice of heaven (the Milky Way) is a solid working-class star cluster conveniently located near Ort Clouds, interstellar gases and an abundance of Dark Matter. One camp of astrophysicists however, looks disapprovingly at all this loosely affiliated Dark Matter and has downgraded our galaxy to ghetto status. But I disagree and maintain that Dark Matter matters. Do you realize that if the Milky Way Galaxy were clustered with more peanuts it would be known as the Snickers Galaxy? Then again if the Milky Way galaxy had all its caramel lipo-sucked out of it, it would become the 3 Musketeers Galaxy – such sweet sorrow. It’s like living in Candyland. So we begin to see just how silly and sweet the universe can be. That it is able to be reshaped this way defies Newtonian physics and lends credence to the Cosmic Joke. A joke whose deepest expression can be found in the words: “Can you hear me know?”
For Sale by Owner
If the Milky Way were a parcel of real estate for sale, its flyer might look like this:
Just come to market, this spacious 5 trillion-starred Galaxy was formed only 10 billion years ago by the grace of our usual contractor – The Almighty – who brought it in ahead of schedule and under budget.
Price: If you have to ask…
GOA Fees (Galaxy Owners Association Fees): 250 Quatloos monthly
This sturdy, spiral-shaped galaxy features:
- Over 93 X 10120,000,000 square feet of usable living area. Plus a dog run for Sirius (serious).
- Almost 384,000 parsecs of Vacuum Sanctuaries set aside for terrestrials to enjoy the unspoiled serenity of massive black voids.
- ADA compliant with mandated accommodations for dwarf stars, low-esteem planetoids and orphaned satellites. There’s even a padded orbital path for eccentric comets.
- Port-a-Potty rest stops thoughtfully placed throughout the galaxy about every 3 light years.
- 42% of our planets receive precipitation – some of it is even water. This climatic condition lowers insurance rates and eliminates the requirement for fire suppression systems.
- All our Black Hole Communities are gated to prevent a slow-traveling passerby from getting sucked into a wormhole.
- Take a Load Off: Half-gravity planets available to lighten the burdens of the overweight.
- Upgrades feature most of the 118 elements in the Periodic Table; including all the heavy elements, the noble gases and some not-so-noble gases. Plenty of Febreze air freshener is recommended to deal with those not-so-noble-gases.
Financing, as always, is available for those who have plenty of money. For those who actually need financing, we suggest you take your less than stellar balance sheet to the Andromeda galaxy where you can buy a lovely starter asteroid at an affordable price.
Taxes are due every quarter light year. Late fee penalties involve recalibrating your planet’s orbit to render it more eccentric so it’s uncomfortably warm in summer and unbearably cold in winter. That is, until you pay up.
The Milky Way Galaxy – If you lived here you’d be home already.
This is Not My Beautiful House
As I survey the heavens and factor in a universe now 10 times vaster than previously thought, I‘m struck by a contradictory epiphany. Rather than relegating myself to a microscopic, soul-killing insignificance set against a limitless universe, I instead recognize myself as an integral piece to an even bigger puzzle. Puzzling indeed. The universe just got big, so I got bigger too. Heartening really.
Extra-terrestrials may have already gotten wind of human life by virtue of all those errant plastic grocery bags the solar wind has been blowing all over the universe. Many bottle-nosed aliens have suffered greatly from this scourge. Other aliens are aware of our existence but are ignoring us because they are simply content just to remain silent and steal our cable – especially since Game of Thrones became so popular.
Enough with the Distractions
Having one’s head in the clouds, daydreaming about Lamborghinis and iPhones is one thing. But finding our consciousness “at one” with the universe is quite another. We don’t want our heart surgeon, in the midst of a transplant, to suddenly set down their sutures and exclaim, “Wow these infra-red rays…they just pass right through you…it’s so cool.” Humans need limitations to function well. If we could easily access the majesty of the universe, nothing would get done. We’d just be a bunch of stoners sitting around in awe of the real Wi-Fi that connects us all. And let’s not fool ourselves. If the male population could tune into the electromagnetic spectrum and acquire x-ray vision, women would have to wear lead clothing to avoid being gawked at?
If you’re like me (no hair on your ankles from years of athletic sock-wearing) you’ve grown weary of concepts that are unfathomable. 2 trillion galaxies are unfathomable. God is unfathomable. Kanye West’s popularity is unfathomable. What does unfathomable even mean – That which cannot be fathomed? I like things that are fathomable; so that when I go out fathoming, I’m able to bring to the surface an understandable conclusion instead of a fish-out-of-water idea that seems hell bent on flip-flopping its way back into the water where it’s content to submerge and shield its divine essence from the truth-starved masses living in a universe now 10 times larger than previously believed. Tell me you’re still with me on this one. And if you are, please get back to me to explain it. Thanks.
Way Too Preachy – Preachy Keen
In my world (the one with high-sheen ankles) all topics, concepts and ideas would be fathomable; and freely fathoming them would be the right of everyone – even if they voted for Trump. Irrespective of your station in life, successful fathoming should be an entitlement. As it stands now, the lack of successful fathoming has spawned religions to explain that which is not immediately apparent. So these ancient guys in long robes and calligraphic scrolls surrounded indescribable spiritual ideas with stained glass and hard bench seats. And then cathedrals with leaky roofs were built so that a continuous fund drive was always needed. Soon the robes got spiffy collars and mitered hats and truths were preached to eager mass looking for solace from a frightful world which during those Dark Ages included stoning, smiting and crucifying.
You can’t go 2 weeks on your computer or iPhone without having your operating system forcibly updated to keep you modernized, efficient and protected and yet we can go thousands of years without updating the tenets of religions created in the time before dentistry. Of course some of these ideas are universal truths and need no updating – they just need dissemination and practice. At least this is what I’ve learned from listening to U2.
The way to enlightenment is more internal than external. It’s an inner journey supplemented by the human curriculum. And all of this is easily explained by an eclectic dilettante who goes off on a tangent while writing about 10-fold increases in galaxies. Who’s to say wisdom doesn’t come at you sideways. Stephen Jay Gould might refer to this mode of advancement as Punctuated Equilibria. Others might call it nonsense. I’m in both camps.
Just Keep Moving
When I was 2 the idea of making an omelet was unfathomable. Now that I’ve evolved into a complex, barrel-aged 55 year-old, making an omelet is routine and I’m expert at it. Similarly, at this level of consciousness (in a barrel developing the rich tannins befitting a well-balanced 55-year old man) the concept of 2 trillion galaxies is unfathomable. But as I evolve and begin to think outside the barrel I may someday regard 2 trillion galaxies as boringly fathomable; just like making an omelet is to me now.
Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells dispensed a homespun philosophy in reference to a team’s value when he said: “You are what your record says you are.” Parcells displays no equivocation. His terse description is as pithy as it is apt. Similarly, I’ve formulated my own (who else’s would it be if it’s my own?) homespun philosophy in reference to one’s place in the universe: “You’re at, where your consciousness says you’re at.” The only variables in those 2 statements (Parcells’ and mine) are “record” and “consciousness.” Those things we can change. And when we do, the world changes with us.
The universe got big, so I got bigger. Not because I’m some cool guy who can mimic the enormity of the universe’s oscillations, but simply because I am a part of the universe. As it goes, so do I. So do we all. It’s axiomatic – which is just a fancy way of saying being part of the universe is the sine qua non of existence – which is just an arrogant way of saying, “That’s just the way it is.” I know I should just stick to the topic of 2 trillion vs 200 billion galaxies and not get so tangential – which is just a fancy way of saying “specificity is paramount to cogency.”
Focus on where you’re at and remember: He who flows through life without expectation is not only happier, but is admired by others who wish they could do the same. That’s the best fortune cookie advice you’ll ever get. Of course the problem with fortune cookie advice is that half an hour later, you’re hungry for more advice.
With the expansion of the universe comes the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Then again, maybe it won’t be extra-terrestrial at all. Maybe it will be just the right amount of terrestrials with no extras left over. But however many extra-terrestrials are discovered I bet their Social Security Trust Fund is just as shaky as ours. I mean it’s not like the old days when you had 6 extra-terrestrial workers for every 1 extra-terrestrial retiree. In some galaxies it’s now a 2:1 ratio of workers to retirees. Especially in the GN-z11 galaxy where retirees can live well into their 200’s and the mandatory retirement age is 32 – such a social welfare galaxy. What those galaxies need are extra workers. Or, in a sense, what they need are extra extra-terrestrials to support the retired extra-terrestrials. Alien newsboys herald the problem while exclaiming: “Extra, extra! Read all about it. Extra extra-terrestrials needed to support retired extra-terrestrials. Extra, extra!”
Currently there’s no shortage of Undocumented Aliens taking the jobs extra extra-terrestrials aren’t willing to do. These Undocumented Aliens don’t pay Social Security taxes and often don’t even make the effort to learn the language of their new planet. Many do menial work like harvesting interplanetary artichokes, acting as nannies and, of course, moonlighting as Uber drivers (they’re everywhere now). But you can’t blame Undocumented Aliens for abandoning the filthy stench of the methane-filled atmospheres on their ghetto asteroids to risk life and antennae burning-up in the richly-oxygenated atmosphere of fashionable planets. Let us all remember, we’re a universe of temporary aliens – visitors really. A great Big Bang Melting Pot of life forms. But don’t worry. Never worry. When all is said and done, I’m sure we’ll be able to return the whole thing to Costco for some kind of refund.
In attempting to put a 10-fold increase in the amount of galaxies into some perspective it’s always helpful to remind people of the following: You can’t. It’s impossible. Not from our humble, little earthly perspective. And this is one of the few reasons I look forward to death (leaving the body) – it will afford me the perspective I’ve always dreamed about.