How Big Is the Universe?
by Tim Challies
On February 14, 1990, the space craft Voyager 1 was on the very fringe of our solar system. Before it drifted away to wander the galaxy, engineers turned the cameras around and pointed them toward earth, 6.4 billion kilometers away. This historic photograph captured earth as just the tiniest point of light in a vast sky. Carl Sagan looked at that photograph and declared, “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.” We are, after all, the inhabitants of just a speck, the tiniest pinprick of light in a universe of unimaginable proportions.
How big is the universe? It’s an impossible question for us to answer, of course, but that has not stopped many from making an attempt. I enjoy hearing about those attempts. Here is one that I came across the other day. It’s worth three-and-a-half minutes of your time:
According to this video, the approximate size of the universe is big. Really big. Really, really big. Scientists pointed the Hubble Telescope at what appeared to be a completely dark area of the sky and left it in place for a 4 month exposure. What they found there was not just stars, but entire galaxies, and this in an area that could be blotted out by holding a grain of rice at arm’s length. Divide the sky into 27 million parts and each of those 27 million parts contains not just stars but entire galaxies.
How many stars are there? No one knows, of course, but scientists estimate something like 300 sextillion (there are around 200 billion of them just in our little galaxy). Three hundred sextillion is a 3 followed by 23 zeroes or a hundred billion times 3 trillion. After a while it gets completely absurd; it’s absolutely unimaginable. Even then these are only rough estimates—there could be many times that. Factor in that we really have no idea where or if the universe ends, and it gets more mind-boggling still.
The video I posted above follows Carl Sagan in looking at the vastness of the universe and seeing in this our own insignificance. After all, what is the earth but a tiny, pale blue dot in an unimaginably massive universe? This is where so many people end up, lost in the vastness of space and believing that the universe declares just how insignificant we are.
You will not be surprised to know that I disagree with this conclusion. I cannot accept it.
The Heavens Declare
When we look at the universe we see, first and foremost, the majesty of God (see Psalm 19). God could have created 50 or 100 or even a million stars to declare something about his character. Our minds would reel at the significance of one million stars, each one far beyond our reach, each one different from every other, each one formed and known by God. But 300 sextillion? That’s making an even bigger statement. That is making a statement not just about power, but about complete, absolute, transcendent power. When you look to the night sky you see God making a statement about himself…
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