Astronomy has always been an interest of mine (I know, I’m a nerd), and I’ve always wondered what the universe is like outside our solar system. Are we alone here? Is there intelligent life outside our planet?

Well, the unfortunate fact right now is that we just don’t know. Sure, there are plenty of people who have seen UFOs flying around, but there’s really no way to verify that those were really alien spaceships, and not just weather balloons, or experimental military aircraft, or Superman. Until somebody makes contact with some aliens, all anybody can do is speculate.

Lucky for you, I’m good at speculating. The other day I was reading this blog about the Kepler mission, a deep-space observatory that has been operational for six weeks. In those six short weeks, it has already identified 140 planets that scientists suspect are similar to Earth – as in, able to sustain life. They haven’t verified anything yet, but these scientists are predicting that there could be as many as 100 million habitable planets in our galaxy alone.

Okay, let’s talk about size. Our galaxy is enormous. Way, way, WAY bigger than any common frame of reference anybody could possibly come up with. There are around 400 billion stars in our galaxy. It’s estimated to be about 100,000 light years across. To put that in perspective, it would take something traveling at the speed of light one hundred thousand years to go from one side to the other. And light is pretty darn fast… it makes the 93 million mile trip to us from the sun in around 8 minutes. That is insane. I can’t even wrap my mind around how big that is.

But it gets bigger. As immense as our galaxy is, there are about 100 billion of these galaxies in our observable universe. Let’s see, 100 billion galaxies, somewhere around 400 billion stars per galaxy… By astronomers’ best estimates, that comes out to roughly 70 sextillion stars. That’s 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.

Kinda makes you feel insignificant, doesn’t it? We’re just one tiny little planet revolving around one medium sized star among 70 sextillion other stars in the universe. How can we be so arrogant to think that we’re the only ones living in this unimaginably massive universe? Even forgetting about this new discovery of Earth-like planets, how could we possibly imagine that the trillions upon trillions of light years’ worth of space around us is completely uninhabited?

The bottom line is, I don’t know. I’ve never been outside our solar system (heck, I’ve barely even been outside this state), so I obviously can’t say anything for sure. But from where I’m standing, on this tiny, insignificant rock floating somewhere in a mind-blowingly huge universe, it seems pretty likely that there’s somebody else out there. Maybe they’ve already figured out how to travel these huge distances, or maybe they’re doing exactly the same thing we’re doing – looking up at the sky and wondering if they’re alone. We’ll probably never know, at least not in our lifetimes, but the truth is out there…

Just ask Mulder

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