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Pondering the Milky Way

Camping in the Wairarapa under the Milky Way. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES


SKY WATCH – Nick Sault

With the moon gone bye-byes for now, it is a good opportunity to get out to a dark place and view the Milky Way.

Get away from town lights, then give yourself 15 minutes in complete darkness for your eyes to accustom – that makes all the difference.

It may look like we are not part of Milky Way, but you have to look at it like when you are in a fog.

With a hundred metres visibility it may look like you are not part of the fog, but it gets denser the further you look because with distance you are looking through more moisture droplets.

Replace the moisture droplets with stars and that is what you are getting when looking at the Milky Way.

In this case you have about 20,000 light years of visibility, then the stars get too thick for you to see inside the galaxy.

It is great to stand there and ponder what is going on in there, where the stars are as dense as sand on the beach.  There must be sentient beings looking back this way, you might think.

After all there’s 100 to 200 billion stars in there.

I was watching some boffins on TED.com presenting their ideas on why we are here and what life is out there.  To be honest, I thought these top men of science and philosophy provided no more than 12 minutes of waffle.

There seemed to be lots of talk about multi-verses and other dimensions, all of which are just speculative.

And we can all speculate, can’t we?

The fact is that when one looks at events that led to the creation of our Solar System, and then the events that happened in the evolution of life on Earth – both creative and destructive – it becomes obvious that the myriad of paths taken in the whole process of producing sentient beings like humans might never have been duplicated in the universe, or ever will be.

So, in my book, we are here because we are darned lucky to be part of a one in an octillion sequence of events.

Simple as that.

It’s so easy to look at that grand misty magical stream of stars across our SW sky and wonder what is going on out there, but at best there may be just bacterial life that doesn’t care diddly-squat about our ponderings.

After all, that’s all the life there was on Earth for the first 3 billion years, before the Cambrian explosion in the last half billion years started spewing out every sort of complex life form leading to us.

DNA was the reason for that explosion of life, and what are the chances such an incredibly complex molecule could be invented twice?


Next week: Great Andromeda galaxy.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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