A small cottage in a vast universe



Years ago my  wife's grandparents owned a cottage in Wonder Lake northwest of Chicago.  We cherished our time there. At the lake during the day and after a hearty meal playing cards in the evening on the enclosed back porch. It was pure rest and relaxation. We estivated there for years, many after her kind and generous grandparents had departed for even greener pastures.  The country air was refreshing.

We not only escaped the hustle and bustle of the City with Big Shoulders.  This was pre-Internet, and we didn't have a TV for most of the time.  We didn't miss it. There was a radio and we could read about the latest news  in the daily papers. That was the whole idea.  Get away from all the white noise. The stress and distractions of the workaday world.

The cottage and its serene surroundings came to mind after I finished reading the fascinating book "How to Build a Universe" by Ben Gilliland who the book jacket says used to write  a science column---MetroCosm--- in something called the Metro, a daily newspaper for commuters in Great Britain.  In 2013 Ben was awarded the Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Space Achievement in Media.

So he knows whereof he writes.

Back to the cottage.  I guess when I got married at 26 I had not really been to the country. At least not to really experience it.  What struck me most were  those  pitch-dark nights far from the  urban light pollution.  One didn't stay out nights in Wonder Lake. Especially on those warm summer nights.. Too many skeeters, gnats, and who knew what else.


But the sky was a marvel to behold.  What I saw books and people had told me  about.  How electrifying the sky would be far from the bit city.   But couldn't have been more overwhelmed by its majesty  and grandeur.  And the sheer number of brilliant stars.  Whenever I gazed up at those  innumerable points of light, I wished I were a friend I had in high school whose hobby was astronomy.  Leonard was his name, and he was really into the hobby.  I visited his home once and he had one room filled with paraphernalia to view and identify the objects in  the heavens.  A telescope that I thought at the time  on the cutting edge was positioned at a window to look  into the  far reaches of the Milky Way and beyond.

Back to the book.  I read on Mr. Gilliland's website that he is a graphic artist and the illustrations in the book  are eye-popping evidence of it.

This morning  on the Today Show they ran  a trailer for the  new Star Wars movie.  But the science of  modern astrophysics and cosmology contains truth that  is stranger than fiction.   13.82 billion years ago, the Big Bang before which nothing existed.  Not space, not matter, not time. Afterwards "crammed within this smallest of small things is all the matter and energy that will ever exist in the entire history of the Universe---all the galaxies, stars, planets, moons, and life that have ever been, or ever will be; squashed into a dot of potential, just 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 times smaller than a single proton. Then it starts to expand."

And the Universe is expanding even faster thanks to Dark Energy

Along the way, Gilliland tells us about cosmic inflation, quarks, antimatter, the Cosmic Microwave Background, virtual particles, the birth of a star, quantum tunnels,  colliding Black Holes, multiverse.

And something called Planck length. "It is so tiny that, if you were to measure the diameter of an atom  by pacing out one Planck length every second it would take you ten million times longer than the Universe has existed (10,000,000 x 13, 800,000,000 years) to complete the journey."

Han Solo and the gang can't top that.




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  • Growing up in a central Illinois township I took the star studded sky for granted. Not till moving to Chicago 22 years ago did I realize that the full spectrum wasn't a nightly event for everyone. Your story reminds me of my own memories spent on summer campgrounds.

    Here's an article I may have mentioned before that addresses some the fantastic science you write about.

  • Thanks, 4zen. I wish I had had that opportunity and experience. Most of us who have grown up in the city can't imagine how splendid the night sky is. Understanding it, recognizing its seasonal changes we can get a better sense of ancient cultures and world views.

    You have mentioned the article before. I wonder if you caught Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Cosmos !! on Fox. It was phenomenal. Of course, I don't have to be convinced of the existence of a Creator. I like to think of myself as a rational theist. Science, because it is limited by what the human mind can grasp, cannot prove or disprove God's reality. The natural order ends where the supernatural order begins. Science has the quantum leap; belief in God has the leap of faith.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I have not seen it, but I found it on youtube through our Apple TV. I'll give it a whirl, thanks Aquinas.

  • see

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