It was just last week that I wrote about earthquakes in Yellowstone National Park and the possibility that they may be foreshadowing the mother lode of “big blows:” a super volcano.
Then, just a few days ago, I received a missive from the folks at Science News informing me that some of my former colleagues have revised their estimates of the number of stars in the Milky Way.
For decades, we’ve always estimated the number of stars in our galaxy to be around 100-billion, give or take a few million. Now, we have good reason—superior technology, for instance—to believe that this estimate has been on the puny side.
The latest estimate? Around 3-trillion stars grace the Milky Way. That’s a whopping thirty times greater than our best previous estimates. And, to add an even wider celestial grin, it looks like little ole Milky Way has FOUR spiral arms.
I urge caution! As the only “intelligent” life forms (that we know of to date) in the Milky Way, we should not be too quick to flip Andromeda the celestial bird.
Gravity—blame it on Isaac Newton—causes massive celestial bodies to attract less massive bodies. Galaxies are nothing more than vast reservoirs of gravity-generating bodies.
For centuries, we estimated Andromeda to hold a trillion or so stars, a good 30-times larger than our own Milky Way. While the mass in the Milky Way tended to pull Andromeda in our direction, Andromeda was pulling us toward it with a much greater gravitational force.
While we’ve been on a collision course with Andromeda for eons, scientists, using state of the art technology, had estimated the timeline for the collision at about 5-billion years out.
In science, we know that the human race is dead in the long run. Finding out that we’re as massive as Andromeda is, and with a fourth spiral arm to boot, no reason for us to get “in a face” snotty about things.
Essentially, we just found out that Nature has shortened our “long run” considerably, by billions of years according to my arithmetic using my handy little scientific calculator.
OK! If you’re one of those sticklers for precision, we’ll definitely collide with Andromeda on October 4, 250000209 instead of February 15, 5000004018.
I can sense the panic in some people already. Lead by the Rev. Pat Robertson, they’ve begun prayer vigils aimed at steering ALL collisions away from us.
Unfortunately, though, I don’t think it will help. With very few exceptions, we have no control over the forces in the universe that can wipe us out in a matter of cosmic seconds.
A super volcano could do it, so could a Gamma ray burst. A large celestial body impacting Earth could also do us in. Remember those dinosaurs?
We cannot destroy the planet all by ourselves, of course. But, we certainly have the wherewithal to annihilate our own species. Considering that about 98% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct, it is the most likely scenario.
Consider that, since the battle of Gettysburg, our species has increased its self-destructive power by a factor of a billion. On the other hand, we have not increased our level of wisdom to neutralize it by anywhere near such a factor.
There are people who like to worry themselves sick over things that will not happen for thousands of years from now, and over which humans have no control. We need to find ways of discouraging such folks from breeding.
A fair number of humans are dumber than rocks. However, being dumb does not become a problem until we fail to realize that we’re dumb. Not knowing is frustrating. On the other hand, not knowing that we don’t know can be outright catastrophic.
All the while, however, we are falling apart at our seams over things we can well control and, many times, prevent outright: war, famine, undue global warming, mouthy politicians, financial meltdowns, deficit spending, extreme infatuation over vacuous celebrities, and taxes are just a few of them.
Permitting the blind to lead the blind has caused most of our woes, both globally and locally. Nationally, while the United States Congress enjoys an aggregate approval rating less than 15%, we keep sending the same dummies back to do more harm.
Does it really matter whether Mother Nature ends our planet’s existence in 5-billion, 5-million, 5-thousand, or even 5-hundred years? NO! It does NOT.
We’ll all be dead well before an expanding Sun, in the final throes of its death spiral, engulfs planet Earth, reducing it to a smoldering cinder.
The world is going to end some day. It isn’t a matter of if, but rather WHEN. Stop worrying about it. We can’t change the fact.
We need to stop killing each other over which group has the most just and powerful imaginary friend. God either exists or doesn’t exist. In the event it’s the latter, there’s nothing we can do about it. Get over it.
If there is a God, why are we so obsessed with lending a hand in running things? It seems so silly and such a colossal waste of time and energy.
My grandmother died at the ripe old age of ninety-seven. She lived her entire life by her conviction that “We take care of the living; God takes care of the dead.”
That’s a useful way of looking at our existence. God or no God, though, we’d better start honoring our part of it and stop treating this planet like we have someplace else to go.
We humans face problems galore and it doesn’t matter whose fault they are. We CAN do something about them, and if we don’t get them under control soon, we’ll all be hoping for a quick, blindsided, and painless species-ending catastrophe.
The problem is that there is never a convenient black hole lurking around when we need it!
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.