Our Awesome Universe
FOR thousands of years people have marveled at the starry heavens. On a clear night a person cannot help being impressed by the beauty and majesty of the stars that can be seen.
Those who think about what they see often wonder: Just what is “out there”? How is it organized? Is there any end to it? Where did it come from?
Probing the Universe
Today more is known about the universe than ever before. In the last few decades all sorts of instruments have been invented to aid scientists in probing for answers to their questions.
Now there are more powerful optical telescopes to look at the stars and to photograph them. Newer, larger radio telescopes capture the radio signals coming from space. And advanced instruments that can analyze the light and heat from stars are now widely used.
In addition, scientists have radar and man-made satellites. These are useful for probing our nearby solar system, that is, our sun and its planets and moons.
From all these sources a flood of information, as well as resulting theories, has been flowing. And a number of things have become evident. One is that the universe has proved to be far, far more awesome than anyone had ever imagined, making the mind stagger when one considers the immensity and complexity of it all. National Geographic magazine observed that what man is now learning has “left him stunned.”
It has also made a shambles of many previous theories about the universe. As the Geographic said: “Exciting new information now pouring forth in ceaseless torrents is shattering our ideas about the universe.”
However, at times fresh bits of information are used as the basis of a new theory that may not really be any closer to the truth than the one it replaced. Dr. James Van Allen of the University of Iowa called to mind what someone once said: “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
Another thing that is being revealed is how little scientists really know about the universe. No matter how extensive their observations, photographs and recordings, they still admit that humans have only scratched the surface of knowledge about space. That should humble us all, and should increase our respect for the Creator of such an awesome arrangement.
Only about fifty years ago, astronomers who were taking pictures of the heavens noticed some fuzzy, cloudlike formations on their photographic plates. It was assumed that these were nearby clouds of gases. But as larger, more accurate telescopes were constructed, the “gases” turned out to be something far more immense and significant—galaxies.
A galaxy is a vast, rotating group of stars, gas and dust. Galaxies have been called “island universes,” for each one of them is indeed like a universe. The earth, sun and other planets of the solar system are a tiny part of our galaxy, which is called the “Milky Way.” This name is derived from the Greek word galaxias, which means “milky way.”
Our Milky Way galaxy is only an average-size one. Yet it is immense, containing about one hundred billion stars, as well as the planets of our solar system and other material such as gases and dust. Its diameter is so vast that if you could travel as fast as the speed of light, 186,282 miles a second, it would take you 100,000 years to cross it! How many miles is that? Well, since light travels about six trillion miles in a year, multiply that by 100,000 and you have the answer: our galaxy is about 600 quadrillion miles in diameter! That is the number six followed by seventeen zeros.
It is almost impossible for the human mind to comprehend such size and distance. And yet, that is just the beginning of what is “out there.” Even more staggering is this fact: so many galaxies have now been detected that it is said they ‘are as common as blades of grass in a meadow.’ A current estimate of their number is one hundred billion. No, not one hundred billion stars, but one hundred billion galaxies! And each one of them contains billions of heavenly bodies.
An idea of how numerous galaxies are can be gained from a report issued by scientists using the huge 200-inch Hale telescope on Mount Palomar, California. They examined the space as far as the telescope could see beyond the small area enclosed by just the bowl of the star pattern called the Big Dipper. How many galaxies do you think they found there? The next time you are out on a clear night, look at the bowl of the Big Dipper. As you do, call to mind that about one million galaxies have been found in the space beyond that small area!
In all their research, have scientists been able to detect the “end,” or “outer limit” of the universe yet? No, they have not. Although with ever more powerful instruments they have penetrated farther and farther into space, they can see no end to the fantastic expanse of the heavens. But they have learned something very unique about galaxies.
Clusters of Galaxies
The billions of galaxies are not scattered at random, as though thrown about haphazardly in space. Instead, they are arranged in definite groups, called “clusters.” Thousands of these groups already have been observed and photographed.
Some clusters contain only a few galaxies. Our Milky Way galaxy, for example, is in a cluster of about twenty galaxies. Within this local group, the closest to us are two galaxies less than 200,000 light-years away, both named after the explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Another “near” neighbor can be seen on a clear night without a telescope, in the constellation of Andromeda. It is a spiral-shaped galaxy like ours, and it is about three million light-years distant.
Other clusters are made up of thousands of galaxies. One such cluster, about 100,000,000 light-years distant from the earth, is located in the direction of the constellation Coma Berenices. That one cluster is made up of about 10,000 galaxies!
The distance between galaxies within a cluster can be from a few hundred thousand light-years to a few million light-years. But the distance from one cluster to another may be a hundred times that.
Problem for Many Scientists
The size of the universe is truly awesome. But so is its very unique arrangement of galaxies, and clusters of galaxies. Such superb organization suggests an Organizer. Also, all those heavenly bodies are governed by definite physical laws. That suggests a Lawgiver. And on earth, ever so many special conditions exist for life, suggesting a purposeful Life-Giver. Commenting on this, Science News says:
“The universe we see around us looks to us unique, and when we study it a little we begin to see that it has certain very special properties without which we could not exist. . . . they seem to require very special initial conditions.
“The laws of physics that operate in our universe seem very special too.”
These things bother scientists who are evolutionists and atheists. These feel that the universe “evolved” by itself, without a Supreme Organizer, Lawmaker, and Life-Giver.
But that is contrary to reason and to our experience. Everything organized has an organizer. Every law has a lawmaker. Every living thing on earth has a parent. Should not the far more complex organization and laws in the universe, as well as life on earth, have an Organizer, Lawmaker and Life-Giver too? An article in Scientific American notes:
“As we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.”
The more that is learned about the universe, the more evident it becomes that there is design behind it, which requires a Designer. Regarding this, Science News states:
“Contemplation of these things disturbs cosmologists because it seems as if such particular and precise conditions could hardly have arisen at random. One way to deal with the question is to say the whole thing was contrived and lay it on Divine Providence.”
Are most scientists willing to do that? No, but humble persons are willing. They acknowledge that such immensity, precision, law, and unique conditions for life could never happen by accident, but are the products of a superior mind.
The Bible book of Isaiah says: “Raise your eyes high up and see. Who has created these things? It is the One who is bringing forth the army of them even by number, all of whom he calls even by name.” Yes, it is the Almighty God Jehovah.—Isa. 40:26.
Since many astronomers do not believe in a God that controls the universe, this has led to conflicting theories about the nature and future of it.
In 1929 astronomer Edwin Hubble concluded that the universe was steadily expanding. Later observations of other astronomers seemed to confirm that the clusters of galaxies were moving apart from one another. This theory apparently supported the idea that the universe began with a “big bang,” from a central mass, and then spread out from there.
Some astronomers now suggest that the rate of expansion is slowing down slightly. They think that eventually this expansion will come to a halt, and that then gravity will pull the galaxies inward, back to where they began, merging in a mass of matter. Then, they theorize, that will “blow up” again in another “big bang.” This process, some believe, will be repeated over and over again, so that the universe would be “oscillating.” How much time is given for such a process? About eighty billion years for each cycle—forty billion to expand, and forty billion to contract.
How sound are such calculations? Admittedly it is all speculation. Scientists do not know what will happen in the future. True, today their instruments seem to indicate an expanding universe—but one that is slightly slowing down. Yet, in view of the repeated abandoning of past theories, it would be foolhardy to think that such present theories are ultimate truths.
For instance, scientists admit that the amount of matter in the universe does not appear to be nearly enough to supply the powerful gravity needed to slow down, stop, and then reverse the expansion believed to be taking place. If that is so, then the clusters of galaxies would continue to fly apart forever, as many astronomers contend.
Yet, Dr. James Gunn of the California Institute of Technology notes that it has long been known that there is also not enough material to provide the gravity needed even to hold the galaxies together in clusters. So every cluster of galaxies should long ago have broken up. Each galaxy should long ago have drifted away from the others in its group. But, admittedly, that has not been the case, for they are bound together in clusters.
It is obvious that, while much has been learned about the awesome universe we live in, far more is unknown. Theories come and go. What was “certain” yesterday is uncertain today. Thus, after a recent astronomers’ conference, the New York Times stated: “As has become evident in the talks here, there is still no consensus as to the nature of the cosmos.” And Science News concluded: “To sum it all up, cosmology is far from settled (if we can hope that it ever will be). Observation, theory and argument bubble on.”
What is wrong with nearly all the present theories is that they ignore the Creator and his purpose. Are we to think that the loving God would create such an awesome universe, meticulously prepare the earth for human habitation, then allow the universe to come together in a mass and thus destroy it all? That is not in any way consistent with His stated purpose. God’s Word declares that the “One who firmly established” the earth “did not create it simply for nothing,” but “formed it even to be inhabited.”—Isa. 45:18.
[Picture on page 17]
THE “MILKY WAY” GALAXY
(Our Solar System)
Our solar system looks immense, yet it is dwarfed when placed in its position in our “Milky Way” galaxy. There are billions of galaxies