Our universe is massive—the adverb “unfathomably” usually modifies that descriptor. It’s an apt adverb—we can’t conceive—fathom—how vast it is.
That said, we manage to possess some picture of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and our neighboring galaxies, even though we will likely never visit them, much less probe them. So how do we know what the Milky Way looks like, when we’re in it?
Once again, Quora comes to the rescue. There’s no way to photograph the Milky Way from the outside looking in, because we haven’t put any probes out that far (the pictures of galaxies we see is usually the Andromeda Galaxy, a spiral galaxy like our own). Voyager 1, which was launched in 1977, exited the Solar System in 2011; astronomically speaking, that’s like getting to the end of the block on your way to the edge of the country.
Quora contributor John Devor offers up this charming post, which details our feeble attempts at mapping our galaxy. The earliest efforts began in the 18th century, that wonderfully optimistic century in which the West believed it could figure out the mysteries of Creation with some degree of certitude (an optimism that would reach its categorical extremes in the following century).
Devor traces, in a succinct way, the evolving attempts to understand our galaxy and universe. He touches upon The Great Debate of the 1920s concerning the size of the universe and distant galaxies—and how distant they really are.
Suffice it to say that our galaxy is YUGE, and the universe is yuger still. We can scarcely conceive of its vastness. When I am at the beach, or far out in the country, I will often stare wistfully at distant stars, knowing that humanity will (likely) never alight upon those distant orbs; it always fills me with a sense of melancholy loneliness. But then, I am taken with Milo-esque melodrama (just not as gay).
It’s also a humble reminder of how much God loves us. In the endless greatness of His Creation, He cares for each of us. It’s hard for me to accept, and virtually impossible for me to understand, but that makes it all the more miraculous—the great Mystery that His Love is.
When I was in high school, I remember listening to a cassette tape from Focus on the Family that purported to refute evolution. I picked it up at the Salvation Army thrift shop in my hometown. The program featured a Christian scientist (not a Christian Scientist) who claimed that an overwhelming majority of astronomers believe in God, because they’ve seen the wonders of His Creation.
I don’t know if that statistic is true—I’ve heard a lot of preachers claim a lot of things that stretch credulity (and I’m not discounting the miraculous; I’ve just heard some stories that are a bit too on-the-nose)—but it would make sense.
Regardless, I have a hard time accepting it at time—that God really cares about me in the midst of this endless glory—but that’s why He’s God and I’m not. Talk about boundless, unfathomable Love in the midst of a boundless, unfathomable Universe.