Our Place in the Universe

An essay by Ali A.

For centuries philosophers and scientists had thought that Earth was the center of the universe. Perhaps the reason was due to the human instinct of thinking of themselves as special. We now know that Earth is revolving around the sun. However, the human tendency to want to be unique or special in their surroundings has never changed. Throughout history people have competed to rise above others. When some succeed in attaining a better position amongst their society members, they sometimes gain false pride and become ambitious and arrogant. Visualizing the universe and pondering it will make you realize how incredibly small and insignificant we actually are. You will understand that no matter what we do, we will always be just a small biological organism, a speck of the universe’s dust. You will see that there are not considerable differences between humans, and therefore we must never walk arrogantly on Earth but instead have humility and courtesy toward people. To completely understand that humans are insignificant and that they are too small to be proud, we need to look at humans in relation to our universe and to our world, Earth.

This universe is so vast that for most people contemplating its complexity and vastness is nearly impossible. You can find information about sizes of galaxies and planets on the internet but reading big numbers with loads of zeroes will not help you form a picture. So, consider it this way, imagine the planet Earth is the size of a grape. As you know people cannot be observed from space with a naked eye, so on this grape you would probably be the size of a microscopic cell. The moon would be the size of pea and 40 cm away from Earth which is actually 400,000 km away. It might not seem much, but it takes a few days for a spacecraft with a speed of more than 300m/sec to travel from Earth to the moon. The sun would be the size of a giant beach ball with a diameter of 120cm and about 15km away from Earth. Remember that Earth is the size of a grape, and it would take about 1h and 30mins to run from the small grape to the giant beach ball with a speed of 3m/sec. Compared to the universe our solar system is nothing in size when you add the fact that there are an average of 250 billion stars in a galaxy and 100 billion galaxies in the universe. So if you think deeply about this fact, you must realize how insignificant humans are compared to the whole universe.

General relativity says that space and time are the same, meaning that as someone travels through space he or she also travels through time which is also called space-time. So if we look into space, we will receive particles of light that have traveled far distances. As astronomers researched they received photons that had traveled 13.8 billion years. This light is from 13.8 billion years ago, and since no older light have been detected, scientists have marked the beginning of the universe 13.8 billion years ago. According to the big bang theory, all the mass in the universe erupted from a black hole. Time itself started from that point. After the big bang, throughout the universe, amounts of matter collided with each other as a result of gravity, then stars were formed. Our star, the sun, was born 4.5 billion years ago with the formation of the solar system. Earth was a large piece of hot liquid matter that was separated from the sun. Until 3.5 billion years ago, Earth was too hot for any life to form. During this time Earth cooled down and its layers got organized, gasses went up into the atmosphere, heavy metals formed its core and other matter found its place according to its density. 3.5 billion years ago, when Earth was cool enough, water vapor turned into particles of rain and formed the oceans. Inside the vast oceans the compounds necessary for life, amino acids, were formed. Then the amino acids formed DNA and RNA. After that the first organism on Earth, bacteria, was born. This bacteria evolved for a few billion years, until several hundred million years ago complex organisms such as fishes were born. The evolutionary process continued until 7 million years ago the hominids appeared. This evolutionary process is according to Darwin’s theory. Of all these different kinds of hominids only one produced the humans, Homo Sapiens. According to scientists, the first modern human appeared 200 thousand years ago. It has been only 200 thousand years since modern humans set foot in this universe. If we compare this 200 thousand years with the 13.8 billion year aged universe in a smaller scale, we would say if the universe was 14 days old then humans would have been born only 15 seconds ago.

Besides being only “seconds” old in the universe, there are many mysteries here on earth that humanity has never satisfactorily answered. For instance, Stonehenge in England. How did these stones get to their current location across great distances without the benefit of modern transport? The same question could be asked about the stone statues of Easter Island and the great pyramids of Giza. The latter is made of thousands of graphite stones, each weighing several tons. Even for the modern world, constructing an identical pyramid would require the most advanced and powerful machines. It is absurd to think that the Pyramids where built by muscle power alone, but how did they do it? Scientists around the world disagree as to the purpose of the pyramids, but some believe they are more than simply tombs. Beyond these well-known mysteries there are other less well known, but equally amazing things in the world, developed by scientists. For instance, scientists have created a breed of pig whose blood and heart can be transferred to humans. The pig’s DNA has been altered to match human DNA. Scientists have also created tiny amounts of something called antimatter in particle accelerators. Very few people understand how this is done or what it means for humans. For most of us, antimatter is a mystery.

So, consider who we are. We live in one of the 100 billion galaxies of the universe. The sun is one of 250 billion stars in our galaxy. More than one million Earths would fit inside the sun and Earth is a trillion times bigger than a human. If this big universe was formed 14 days ago, then the whole human race would be 15 seconds old. And the knowledge of humanity is just a droplet of water in the vast ocean of Information. We are almost nothing. Humanity is insignificant so there is nothing for a human to be puffed up about and no reason to act arrogantly towards our fellow humans. Therefore, it makes sense to respect others as all humans are just specks in the universe. We can see that we are not so different from one another when we look at ourselves from this perspective.

Writing by Afghan writers. Editor/Publisher: Nancy Antle; Editor: Pamela Hart