Themes of Space and Time
Worlds and stars, like people, are born, live and die. The themes of space and time are thus intertwined.
We can’t however forget that the lifetime of a human being is measured in decades, but the lifetime of any star is a hundred million times longer.
Compared to a star, Humans are like mayflies, fleeting ephemeral creatures who live out their whole lives in the course of a single day of the planet Earth. Indeed, from the point of view of mayfly or firefly, human beings are stolid, boring, immovable, offering hardly a hint that they ever do anything. From a point of view of a star, on the contrary, a human being is a tiny flash, one of billions of brief lives flickering tenuously on the surface of a strangely solid, anomalously cold, exotically remote sphere of silicate and iron.
In all those other worlds in space there are events in progress, occurrences that will determine their future. And on this tiny planet called Earth, this moment in history is a historical branch point. What you do with your world in this time will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully determine the destiny of your descendants and their fate, if any, among the stars.
A star is a kind of cosmic kitchen inside which atoms of hydrogen are cooked in heavier atoms. Stars condense from interstellar gas and dust, which are composed mostly of hydrogen. But the hydrogen was made in the Big Bang, the explosion that began the Cosmos.
Suppose you take an apple pie and cut it in half; take one of the two pieces, cut it in half; and continue. How many cuts before you are down to a single atom? The answer is about ninety successive cuts. Of course, no knife could be sharp enough, the pie is too crumbly, and the atom would in any case be too small to see unaided. But there is a way to do it.
A typical atom has a kind of cloud of electrons on the outside. Electrons are electrically charged, as their name suggests. The charge is arbitrarily called negative. Electrons determine the chemical properties of the atom – the glitter of gold, the cold feel of iron, the crystal structure of the carbon diamond. Deep inside the atom, hidden far beneath the electron cloud, is the nucleus, generally composed of positively charged protons and electrically neural neutrons. Atoms are very small – one hundred million of them end to end would be as large as the tip of your little finger. But the nucleus is a hundred thousand times smaller still, which is part of the reason it took so long to be discovered.
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. Image: © Megan Jorgensen