If you go down to the ocean just before dawn any day this summer, you can watch the sunrise. It’s a profound experience, and if you have any problems on your mind at that time, the grandeur of the sunrise can wash them away.
It starts way out beyond the edge of the dark ocean as a bright yellow dot, one that casts a dim light on the lifeguard stand, the dunes, the snow-fencing. Pretty soon, it turns into a slice, then a half circle. The sky lightens. Things on the beach now cast shadows. Then the sun gently lifts up in its entirety to become a bright yellow sphere, and you know it is shining its warmth and light on our earth and the other eight planets circling it. For us, this sun is perfect, neither too hot nor too cold. For anybody on the other planets, it’s a problem.
The birds circle and swoop around excitedly, cawing to one another about this sudden event. In their marble-sized brains, it is again happening for the very first time.
At this point, you might want to head for home, happy to have seen with your own eyes just how small and insignificant events and problems are on this little world we live in.
Or, you might stay and, well, it gets very complicated.
Our solar system is just one of about a hundred billion in our galaxy, and our galaxy is just one of about a hundred billion in our universe.
We now know that these little bits and pieces that form up our stars and planets were originally a single small object that exploded about 13.8 billion years ago. That object was smooth and tight. It was absolutely everything, all packed together.
After the explosion, the many pieces of the object streaked off and away. They became disorganized, complex, interesting and bizarre.
Soon thereafter, we learned that in between these pieces, dark matter, an invisible force, was forming and pushing the pieces outward. Interestingly, as time went by, the dark matter simply filled up the increasing space between the pieces, apparently creating more dark matter. It’s as if there was a room with the air sucked out, a door opens, the air rushes in, but there is still the same amount of air outside. How that happens, we do not know, but the ensuing logic says that this ever-increasing explosive universe will be without end. It will not fall back on itself, like some spent fireworks bang, as some had thought. It will, instead, continue on, forever expanding.
Also, as this process continues, the universe will become even more messy and diverse and sloppy and confusing and unpredictable. There will be setbacks where stars burn out and fall into dark holes, enormous garbage bins in which the pieces, along with their attendant time and space, go in and never come out. Meanwhile, young stars divide and create newer stars. And the universe just keeps on getting larger.
At the present time, scientists from 20 countries are working together to create an enormous, virtual digital telescope spanning half the globe—from Spain to Hawaii to the South Pole—that may allow us to peer into the maw of a black hole that floats around in our galaxy. Most if not all galaxies have at least one black hole, a massive garbage bin. When anything gets too close, it snorts and wheezes, and amidst laser firing lightning bolts, sucks it in and burns it up, never to be seen again.
As for what came before the explosion of the original, smooth, dense, pre-universe 13.8 billion years ago, only theories abound. One, a favorite of Dr. Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology who told me all about this in a Ted Talk, is that this original object looked much like an egg, all smooth and rounded, and it was laid by a chicken. Beyond that he is not willing to go.
As you take your pathetic, insignificant little drive home from the beach, relaxed and peaceful and humming the tune “You Are My Sunshine,” you might imagine that giant chicken laying that giant egg.