Think About It: Lost in space

Even our cats are crabby — although I fail to see any reason they should be. These two have everything they need at their claw tips and I’ve never seen them watch the news for any sustained period.

They are fed on time and loved when they’re in the mood and could care less that California fires are burning through small towns and people’s homes.

What does it matter to them that Russia is trying to bend our minds toward angry mindless division through social media?

I haven’t heard one complaint from them about income inequality, the federal deficit fueled by tax cuts and our government separating children from parents using deceptive means.

OK, I admit to my own crabbiness and a bit of cat envy. Time to take refuge in a place where the daily bad news doesn’t follow me. I’m not used to a new world worry each day piled onto usual daily life events and worries. Time to stop and dwell in my own ordinariness and more benign pressures like clipping crabby cats’ claws and having a screening colonoscopy.

Let there be light

What better place to retreat than outer space. One of my favorite thought escapes is into the more esoteric news that appears in the science section of the New York Times or, if fantastic enough, turns up on my internet home page.

I like to explore news that calls us to think about our place in our universe. The breaking news that caught my imagination is the news that astronomers have detected a signal from the first stars in the universe. (NASA February 2018)

The first stars!

NASA explains that our most powerful telescopes can’t see the ancient stars, but researchers detected the faintest of signals that showed hydrogen gas interacting with those first stars in such a way to allow gas to be seen at various radio signals.

The discovery is not only the first stars; it is evidence of first light. Up until that point, the universe was dark, and we know that most life cannot exist in darkness.

Our predominant religions, Christian and Jewish, mark the appearance of light on the first of six days of creation. My little research into it says the Muslim creation story is not dissimilar, although the Quran speaks less to six days than six long spans of time.

Space scientists speak in billions of years, not days or weeks or centuries.

Calculating time is important to the mathematics of their conclusions and is supported by more than the sun rising and setting.

I don’t think anyone setting out the wisdom of the Bible, Torah and Quran was thinking in billions of years like scientists whose research attempts to explain the origins of first the Earth, our solar system, our galaxy and finally (maybe), our universe.

In breaking news from 2003, NASA proudly displays what it calls “the ‘best baby’ picture of the universe ever taken.” The baby universe is shown as an oval filled with colorful light and dark areas thought to be the “first generation” of light. (NASA 2003)

The data derived from the 2003 discovery was used to place the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years within a 1 percent margin of error. In addition, the data showed that first light was “ignited” 200 million years after the big bang, telling us the universe didn’t spend much time in darkness.

First light — by being first — must be near the birth of our universe, currently explained by science as starting with “the big bang.”

The big bang is said to be the result of an incredibly intense explosion of incredibly dense matter that is calculated to have occurred in a fraction of a second. Most of us do not have the imagination and intelligence to understand the force that, in fact, is still spewing and expanding the universe.

Beyond imagination

How are we, the ordinary other, to understand that every bit of what exists today in our universe came out of a very tiny dot somewhere in nowhere?

Well, earthlings are not above trying, although, there are groups of people that believe an acceptance of science means a denial of God and protest the teaching of evolutionary and climate change science in schools.

There is no question through my forage into first light, that acceptance of God and acceptance of science can co-exist. Since our sentient beginnings, humans have relied on God for explanations. We still do; science can’t explain everything. I have serious doubt that the capacity of humans is enough to explain God anytime soon. Nor science, whose discoveries lead to more mystery, more questions.

Meanwhile, I do believe we have an innate knowing of a god, a force of nature, a spirit, whatever we name it, that drives our desire to understand and to believe, whether faith, science or both. We have not been alone in the quest and its inquiring tentacles; like-minded explanations are expressed in the similar threads of legends and scientific inquiries that have come down through thousands of years from difference sources.

I expect the future others to add to the base of faith and knowledge known today and leave more questions for others to follow.

Our speck was blown so far out that we are only now with powerful scientific tools seeing the first light of the first star. I can’t help but feel grateful to be here.

I am not far enough along the chain of faith, intellect and education to connect all these dots, but I enjoy being reminded that we are part of something pretty amazing and we have the capacity to read, talk, fantasize and think about it.

Visiting outer space in a time of daily discord and division about the right way to live is humbling and strangely calming, given we all came from the same beginnings.

Bertha Cooper spent her career years as a health care organization and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in Sequim Gazette. Cooper has lived in Sequim with her husband for nearly 20 years.