Last weekend, Kendra and I had dinner and drinks with some friends. Put two nerds together, and we eventually get to talking about science…
One of my particular guilty pleasures is waxing poetic about our astoundingly meager place in the universe. It reliably makes my skin crawl. (Think that’s weird? Please subtract some points from your nerd score.)
So we somehow managed to corner our helpless guests with tall tales about what is known about space. Where spacecraft have visited and what they’ve observed; if we think life is out there, and where; when we’ll get to Mars, if ever; if any habitable planets are nearby; how large the universe is thought to be; where does matter come from; and so on.
As we threw back our beers at the local pub, one friend dropped the question any science enthusiast salivates over:
“What do you think is the most amazing thing about the universe?”
I couldn’t list just one thing, so I haphazardly weaved together this list (paraphrased, of course):
- You’re made of star dust. It was forged in infernal blasts called supernovae, dying stars which fused hydrogen and helium into a cornucopia of elements. The iron in hemoglobin in your blood, the carbon in your DNA, the calcium in your bones? Thank a supernova. These massive blasts seeded the cosmos and, in fact, pushed gas together to create the sun (among other things).
- Matter is mostly empty space. If you had neutrino vision (instead of 400nm-700nm “ROYGBIV” light vision), matter might as well not exist. In fact, in the past second, 5 trillion nearly massless neutrinos passed through the palm of your hand. Stranger still, when I’m grabbing this beer, I’m not actually touching it — the repulsion of electrons keeps a safe distance between me and anything I touch.
- The universe is expanding at an increasing rate. We have no clue as to why. It doesn’t make sense (yet), so we made up a term called “dark energy” to call whatever is responsible… well, something. Stars and the space they occupy could grow could and dim over trillions of years, or — if the acceleration really keeps up — everything as we know it could be ripped into subatomic bits.
Obviously I’ve left out some astounding stuff…
What do you think is the most amazing thing about the universe?
Photo courtesy NASA/CXC/NCSU/S.Reynolds et al.