How High Is the Sky?

by The Old Scott

How high is "up"? When you look up into a clear night sky, how high and how far are you seeing? All those little specks of light you see: What are they? Stars, of course. But what stars? And not all are stars, by any meanssome are galaxies-huge collections of individual stars, sometimes numbering as many as a billion or more. How far away are they? How many are there?

You know that our Sun is a rather ordinary, even puny, star by galactic standards. Yet it floods our corner of the universe with so much light that if there were much more, Earth would be a vast desert slagheap. Nothing could live here. (Interestingly, the opposite is also true: if Earth received, for example, only half or two-thirds as much light as we actually get, Earth would be permanently wrapped in ice, and life as we know it would be impossible.)

A great many of those pinpoints of light in the night sky would dwarf our Sun if they were close to us-but in fact they are so distant that astronomers had to invent a stellar "yard-stick" to be able to handle the numbers conveniently. This measuring unit is the "light-year"-the distance a particle of light, moving at 186,000 miles per second, travels in a year. We can round off the result at 5.8 trillion miles-or you can multiply 60 seconds x 60 minutes x 24 hours x 364.25 days x 186,000 miles. (Use a pencil-your calculator will never hold so big a number.)

Despite the stupendous number of miles they represent, light-years are almost too cramped for really remote space. Scientists believe we can reach out with sophisticated instruments to detect light that has traveled billions of light-years. And God alone really knows for sure whether there is any end at all to space.

So how many stars are there? No one but God, who put them there, knows the exact answer. However, it has been estimated that if you were to hold a dime up at arm's length, you would block out the light from something like fifteen million stars! Try moving the dime around, and you will start to get a faint glimmering of how many stars there are. If you will think of space as a gigantic fish bowl, with the stars as fish swimming in it, you'll begin to feel the immensity of space!

Our own "local" galaxy is the Milky Way, which appears overhead as a faint cloudy band of light crossing the sky. Composed of millions of stars, the galaxy is shaped something like a pin-wheel, with star-laden arms emerging from the central disk. Our Solar System, with the Sun, Earth and the other planets, is believed to be located on one of the outer arms. So when we look at the Milky Way, we are looking toward the center of our galaxy.

Many astronomers believe there are millions of these galaxies, each perhaps with its millions of stars. Such a vast scale of creation! So much matter! Where did it all come from? The question is no problem at all for those who believe in God, for He can do anything. We simply echo the words of Psalm 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork." But this question of where everything came from is utterly impossible for a non-believer: There has to be a beginning to all things; but the unbeliever rejects the only Source there is: God Almighty.

Note that the "Big Bang Theory," and all its competitors, merely muddy the question, without answering it-they all assume something as a precursor. (The Big Bang Theory, for example, posits a mighty mite of matter which supposedly contained all the substance in the universe, incredibly condensed.) Matter does not create itself. This should be obvious to all. Yet the God-deniers keep building elaborate theories to explain the transformation of the universe, not its origin. In this they are like the ancient Greek philosophers who attempted to explain what held the Earth up. Their story went something like this: The god Atlas holds up the world on his shoulders. Yes, but what holds Atlas up? Well, he stands on the back of a great elephant. And the elephant? It is standing on a giant turtle. And what is the turtle standing on? Don't ask, you're giving me a headache! In other words, they didn't know, but hoped to satisfy your curiosity by stringing out a series of suppositions, just as the ungodly are still doing.

How much better to say with the prophet Isaiah: "Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who has created these things, that brings out their host by number: He calls them all by names, by the greatness of His might" (Isa. 40:26).

How great and marvelous are the works of God! Truly, He is clothed in majesty! But He also has the heart of a Father, yearning over His children-and this is the most amazing thing of all!

Sources:

Immensity, Clarence M. Benson, Van Kampen Press, Chicago, 1937.

Galaxies, Harlow Shapley, Blakiston Co., Philadelphia, 1943.

Splendor in the Sky, Gerald S. Hawkins, Harper & Row, NY, 1961.

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