What You Might Not Know About the Stars Above Us

On April 18th, SACC-SFL arranged a happy hour with the theme “Stargazing”. Astronomy Professor Niel Mulchan was invited to talk about what stars really are and to give us an introduction to astrology. Niel was kind enough to share a summary and some additional fun facts with us to enjoy. Read it below. 

The ink is still wet as the story of the Universe is being written in the search for answers, some of which we may never find. But these just may be the unsolved mysteries mankind needs to escape the burdens of life, even for just a minute to look to the heavens and wonder why. Looking up into the seemingly infinite Cosmos, we may find some solace knowing that we are all eternally chemically bonded not just to each other, but to everything that ever was, still is, and ever will be. We are all quite truly one with the Universe. But no species lasts forever. And the end will come for the run of the human race as the relentless work of evolution continues to adapt all life to an ever-changing planet. But until that time comes in the not-so-distant-future, take heed in exactly how special you are, for the very material that gives you life is born from the death of stars billions and billions of years ago in the far reaches of the Universe, trillions of trillions of kilometers away. Each of us is made of the scattered remains of the birth of the Universe and the death of stars, most of which turn into Black Holes.

A moonlit walk on the beach is more special than you may realize. Our closest celestial neighbor in all the Universe, is our very own Moon, “Theia,” named after the Greek goodness of Divinity. Just 384,000 km away from us, one quarter the size of the Earth and born out a cataclysmic collision of two planets 4 billion years ago, the Universe is slowly reclaiming our Moon. Enjoy the beauty of the full Moon before it’s too late, for each year the Moon drifts off into the darkness of space by a few centimeters, and eventually we will lose our Moon. What happens then? Well, nothing good. You’ll have to come find me for the answers you may not like!

Finally, maybe the most meaningful word we have ever learnt, is the word “perspective.” What you see simply depends on how you see it. Anyone can tell you where to look, but no one can tell you what to see. From here on our home, the Earth, it’s the only home we’ve ever known, and may ever know. It is home to everyone we hold dear to our lives, and all of the material possessions that we believe we cannot live without. And as we spend our relatively short time as a species on Earth thinking about how to keep all of our material possessions, and how to get more of it, give a passing thought to your perspective. You see, on one hand, the Earth is truly special. It is the only place in the entire known Universe where life has ever been found, and may ever be found. It is the only place where liquid water is known to exist. It is the only place where rainbows and sunsets have ever existed. But for all of this unique beauty, think about on the other hand. Being far into the depths of space and looking back at the Earth and everyone and everything on it. It is only then, with that perspective, that one would realize that in the grandest of schemes, how absolutely insignificant the Earth, and everything and everyone one on it, really is. For the speck of dust that the Earth would look like from the depths of space would render it completely meaningless, and it would have made no difference to the Universe had the Earth never existed in the first place. Whether you see the Earth in all its uniqueness, or as an irrelevant speck of dust in the vast Universe, simply depends on your perspective: are you inside the box looking out, or are you outside the box looking in.

The rise of fall of empires and civilizations around the world that all looked to the stars for guidance should teach us not to worry about trying to save the Planet, the Earth is a great survivor. It’s been here for billions of years long before we ever existed, and will be here for billions long after we’re gone. It’s saving mankind that we should be worried about.


Text by: Niel Mulchan, Professor at Broward University.