Saturday, November 7, 2009

Contemplating the Universe

Have you ever tried to picture the size of the universe?


I thought about this a few weeks ago as I watched the movie Men in Black for the tenth or fifteenth time. Part of the plot involves an alien searching for a galaxy. The humans all assume the galaxy is some huge thing but it turns out to be contained in a pendant attached to a cat’s collar.

Picture that: an entire galaxy fits inside a glass ball the size of a coin.

The alien turns out to be a giant roach-like creature.

We think of size in terms of inches and feet or centimeters and meters, from a few to a few hundred. We think of distance in units of miles or kilometers, from a few to a few million or billion.

Sometimes when I try to contemplate the universe (I actually do that sometimes. Don’t you?), I start by picturing an atom. What I remember from science class is that an atom consists of electrons orbiting a nucleus; it looks like the planets orbiting the sun.

So maybe our solar system is an atom.

Every object is made from millions of atoms. There are millions of billions of objects on each planet; each planet orbits around the sun; some scientists say the sun orbits around a central point of a galaxy; and there are millions of galaxies.

Following that line of thought, Earth might just be an electron orbiting the nucleus of one of the millions of atoms on the wing of a cockroach scurrying across the surface of a huge planet. Armageddon might be what happens when someone steps on that roach.

It’s all relative, isn’t it?

Men in Black seems like a goofy, clever sci-fi comedy with a few sight gags and script points that provide hints of social commentary; but in the middle of all that you might find some interesting contemplation of the universe.

1 comment:

Happy Hour...Somewhere said...

When I contemplate the universe, I think of the Monty Python song...The Galaxy Song. Because, you know, it is bugger down here on earth.