Friday, January 15, 2010


Genesis 1:14-19

Have you noticed how the word "awesome" has been stolen? It used to be if something was "awesome" that meant it shook you to your core. Now it means nothing.

I don't know another word, however, to explain what happens in this passage. God has created vegetation -- life has begun -- and now he sets himself to create an orderly system of lights that will govern days, and seasons, and years. (I read a book once that claimed the zodiac was originally designed by God to point the way to Christ, not to predict whether you were going to have a good day or not. Fascinating.)

But the piece that is awesome here hasn't shown up yet. Hang on.

Ever since growing up in northern Minnesota far away from the bright city lights, I've been fascinated by the night sky. Look up on a cold January night when there's no moon and you can see thousands and thousands of stars. The Milky Way looks like a bright ribbon of light across the cold sky. Bundle up and watch long enough and you begin to see the entire sky pinwheeling around Polaris like some gigantic nightly dance, which of course means that it's really the earth that is dancing some marvelous pirouette so we can see the whole sky every 24 hours.

Astronomers tell us that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, has about 100 billion stars organized in a pinwheel-like formation with either two or four arms extended from a bulging disc at the core. The Milky Way sits in the center of a group of "satellite galaxies", sort of our close friends in this part of the universe. Farther away are many other galaxies -- in fact, roughly another 100 billion galaxies. Do the multiplication and you come up with an amazing -- awesome -- number of stars. Somewhere in the neighborhood of a 10 with twenty-two zeroes after it. It is a number far greater than we can imagine. In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope spent ten days focusing on a tiny fragment of sky near the handle of the Big Dipper. If you had a friend stand 75 feet away from you and hold up a dime, that's how much of the sky Hubble used. Taking picture after picture of this same slice of sky in various formats, Hubble looked deeper and deeper into the sky to see farther and farther and capture objects that were far too faint to be seen by our eyes. Scientists cobbled together the multiple images of this same tiny fragment of sky and here is the result:

This image shows more than 1500 galaxies -- not stars, galaxies -- in that one tiny core sample of space. (The scientists who organized this project intentionally chose a portion of the sky that would have few or no stars in the foreground.) Astronomers tell us that the density of the universe -- the distribution of galaxies -- is roughly the same in all directions from us. So if you could get rid of the foreground lights and look all over the night sky, and if your eyes were sufficiently sensitive, this is what you would see in every direction.

When God describes our planet, and our sun, and the lights that hang around to help us gauge times and seasons, almost as an afterthought Genesis adds, "He also made the stars." Like, oh, yeah, I almost forgot to mention it.

Our God is awesome.

1 comment:

  1. Going the other direction is just as awe inspiring. Back when I went to college the animal cell had a few organelles: the nucleus, ribosomes, mitochondria, and my favorite, endoplasmic reticulum. However today, biologists have peered deeper into the cell and actually viewed the biochemical process that occur inside our cells. That brings a sense of "awe" to me.