Tag Archives: NASA

Who Is Our Neighbor? Andromeda !

Today’s featured APOD stunner is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.  At a mere 2 million light years away from our own Milky Way, it is our nearest major galactic neighbor. (See Luke 10:29; “And who is my neighbor?”)

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

It is a cliché to express a sense of human littleness in the face of the unthinkably enormous scope of the universe.  But here, as in all things, one must retain a sense of perspective. For this unimaginable immensity is just the grown-up phase of a creation that once was small enough to fit in its creator’s hand (or yours, for that matter.) And we are fashioned in the image of that same creator.

A cliché that is both true and more useful: Biblical religion both humbles us (in the face of the majesty of God) and elevates us (for we are created in the image of that majestic God).  This balance of our smallness and our greatness is mirrored in face of our universe, so huge and yet once so small.

By contrast, as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr put it, “Both the majesty and the tragedy of human life exceed the dimension within which modern culture seeks to comprehend human existence.”

 

 

 

Another Beauty

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.”  Psalm 19

This is NGC136, a galaxy so “ordinary” that it doesn’t even have a name.

[Reminder: When considering the heavens and their magnitude (100 billion galaxies of 100 billion stars each), remember that all of it was, in the beginning, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Well, not your hand, but God’s.]

More Stars in the Palm of God’s Hand

This is the Robin’s Egg Nebula. Actually a dying pair of stars surrounded by stardust.  While not a galaxy, still worth a look.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Here we see one galaxy devouring another.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

This is the Red Rectangular Nebula.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Here are a couple more. The one on the left is twice as big as our Milky Way.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

This handful  is only a few of the estimated 100 BILLION galaxies that exist, each with an average 100 BILLION stars.  But keep it in perspective:  This entire, unimaginably vast universe, this galaxy of galaxies, was in the beginning compact and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. We learn this not from theologians, but from astrophysicists,  scientists.  Though the Psalmist told us long ago, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmaments display his handiwork.”  And Genesis foretold the Big Bang.

“In the beginning…” it was all in God’s hand.

When I Consider thy Heavens: APOD and the Psalms

ngc1398_eso_3416I want to alert everyone to an amazing website that should be visited every day.  I turn to it each morning before or after my morning prayer (from the monthly magazine Magnificat, which I heartily endorse).

It is “Astronomy Picture of the Day“, a NASA production featuring astonishing photos of stars, galaxies, planets, nebulas, and other celestial phenomena.  Find it at apod.nasa.gov.  Bookmark it in your Favorites or wherever. It has photos from telescopes around the world and in orbit, from Hubble and other satellites, and from simple earthbound cameras.  Not only distant galaxies but beautiful auroras and eclipses, and everything in between.  There is an archive arrow-button on the left side at the bottom, so you can click through a nearly endless gallery of their past pictures.

I cannot imagine how APOD would fail to trigger a spiritual sense of awe at some level; at least a tingle.

Arp243_Hubble_3978

This is two galaxies colliding and merging, 250 million light years away from us. The top photo shows a galaxy 65 million light years away.  When the light from these galaxies began the trip to us, dinosaurs walked the earth!

 

Some time ago I was corresponding with a friend and confided that I was beginning to think about God.  His response was that he thought the universe was too big, too grand to include something as small and local as a deity, especially a man-centered one.  I didn’t know how to respond.

I thought of Psalm 8, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;  What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

It cut no ice;  my friend thought the grandeur of the stars was wholly natural and self-explaining, and way too big for a tribal bronze-age god.

I wish I had thought to point out that the entire universe, unimaginably immense, was once so small that we could hold it in our hands; that the proto-Big Bang creation moment is completely inexplicable to science; that the universe is only comprehensible as part of an expansion process that stretches outward from the infinitesimal.

And I should have pointed out the mysterious human ability to appreciate the beauty of the skies; no evolutionary theory explains our sense of awe when we gaze at the night sky.

And I wish I had known about APOD back then.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

In saner times, Psalm 19:1 would be the motto of NASA.