Journey Through The Universe

Down there life continues the traffic is
awful stocks go on trading and Star Trek
is still showing when we return home if
we return home
will it be the same will we be the same
we have to leave all this behind to dip
our toes into the vast dark ocean on to
the moon
dozens of astronauts have come this way
before us 12 walked on the moon itself
just a quarter of a million miles from
home three days by spacecraft baron
desolate
it’s like a deserted battlefield but
oddly familiar so close we’ve barely
left home
Neil Armstrong’s first footprints looks
like they were made yesterday there’s no
air to change them they could survive
for millions of years
maybe longer than us
our time is limited we need to take our
own giant leave 1 million miles 5
million 20 million miles were far beyond
where any human has ever ventured out of
the darkness a friendly face the goddess
of love Venus the morning star the
evening star she can welcome the new day
in the east say good night in the West a
sister to our planet she’s about the
same size and gravity as Earth
we should be safe here but the Venus
Express space probe is setting off
alarms it’s telling us these dazzling
clouds they’re made of deadly sulfuric
acid the atmosphere is choking with
carbon dioxide
[Applause]
never expected this Venus is one angry
goddess
the air is noxious pressure unbearable
and it’s hot approaching 900 degrees
stick around and we be corroded
suffocated crushed and baked
nothing can survive here
not even this is Soviet robotic probe
it’s heavy armors been trashed by the
extreme atmosphere
so lovely from Earth
up close this goddess is hideous
she’s the sister from hell pockmarked by
thousands of volcanoes all that carbon
dioxide is trapping the sun’s heat Venus
is burning up its global warming gone
wild before it took hold
maybe Venus was beautiful calm more like
her sister planet Earth so this could be
Earth’s future
where are the twinkling stars the
beautiful spheres gliding through space
maybe we shouldn’t be out here maybe we
should turn back
but there’s something about the Sun
something hypnotic like the Medusa too
terrible to look at too powerful to
resist luring us onwards on like a moth
to a flame
wait there’s something else obscured by
the Sun it must be mercury get too close
to the Sun this is what happens
temperatures swing wildly here that
night it’s minus 275 degrees
come midday it’s 800 plus burnt then
frozen
the messenger space probe is telling us
something strange for its size mercury
has a powerful gravitational pull it’s a
huge ball of iron covered with a thin
veneer of rock the core of what was once
a much larger planet so where’s the rest
of it maybe a stray planet slammed into
mercury blasting away its outer layers
in a deadly game of cosmic pinball whole
worlds on the loose careening wildly
across the cosmos destroying anything in
their path and a we’re in the middle of
it
vulnerable exposed small everything is
telling us to turn back but who could
defy this the Sun
in all its mesmerizing splendor
our light our lives everything we do is
controlled by the Sun depends on it it’s
the Greek god Helios driving his chariot
across the sky the Egyptian god rah
reborn every day the summer solstice Sun
rising at Stonehenge for millions of
years this was as close as a god to
staring into the face of God
it’s so far away if it burned out we
wouldn’t know about it for eight minutes
it’s so big you could fit 1 million
Earth’s inside it
but who needs numbers without the real
thing
we see it every day a familiar face in
our sky now up close it’s unrecognizable
the turbulent sea of incandescent gas
the thermometer pushes ten thousand
degrees
can’t imagine how hot the core is could
be tens of millions of degrees
hot enough to transform millions of tons
of matter into energy every second
more than all the energy ever made by
mankind dwarfing the power of all the
nuclear weapons on earth back home we
use this energy for light and heat
but up close there’s nothing comforting
about the Sun it’s electrical and
magnetic forces erupt in giant molten
gas loops some are larger than a dozen
Earth’s more powerful than 10 million
volcanoes
when they burst through they expose
cooler layers below
sunspots
a fraction cooler than their
surroundings sunspots look black but
they’re hotter than anything on earth
and massive
of the 20 times the size of her
but one day all this will stop
the sun’s fuel will be spent and when it
dies the earth will follow this guard it
creates life destroys it and demands we
keep our distance
this comet straight too close the sun’s
heat is boiling it away creating a tail
that stretches for millions of miles
it’s freezing in here
there’s no doubt where this comets from
the icy wastes of deep space
but all the steam geysers have dust
it’s the Sun again melting the Comets of
frozen heart strange a kind of vast
dirty snowball covered in grime eat our
tiny grains what looks like organic
material preserved on ice since who
knows when maybe even the beginning of
the solar system
say a comment like this crashed into the
young earth billions of years ago
maybe a delivered of organic material
and water the raw ingredients of life it
may even have sown the seeds of life on
earth that evolved into you and me but
save crashed into the earth now think of
the dinosaurs wiped out by a comet or
asteroid strike
it’s only a question of time eventually
one day will go the way of the dinosaurs
if life on earth was wiped out we’d be
stuck out here homeless the drift in a
hostile universe we need to find another
home among the millions billions of
planets there must be one that’s not too
hard not too cold with air sunlight
water
we’re like Goldilocks we could
comfortably live the Red Planet
unmistakably Mars
for centuries we’ve looked to Mars for
company for signs of life
could there be extraterrestrial life
here I’ll be ready to rewrite the
history books to tear up the science
books to turn our world upside down
what happens next could change
everything
Mars is the planet that most captures
our imagination think of b-movies sci-fi
comics what follows Martians it’s all
just fiction right but what if there
really is something here
hard to imagine though up close this is
a dead planet the activity that makes
the earth livable shut down millions of
years ago here red and dead Mars is a
giant fossil
wait something is alive a dust devil a
big one bigger than the biggest twisters
back home there’s wind here and where
there’s wind there’s air could that air
sustain extraterrestrial life
it’s too thin for us to breathe and
there’s no ozone layer nothing to
protect us against the sun’s ultraviolet
rays there is water but frigid
temperatures keep it in a constant deep
freeze it’s hard to believe anything
could live here
back on earth of there are creatures
that survive in extreme cold heat even
in the deepest ocean trenches it’s as
though life is a virus it adapts spreads
maybe that’s what we’re doing right now
carrying the virus of life across the
universe even in the most extreme
conditions life usually finds a way but
on a dead planet with no way to
replenish its soil no heat to melt it’s
frozen order
all this dust it’s hard to see where
we’re going
Olympus Mons named after the home of the
Greek gods a vast ancient volcano three
times higher than Everest there’s no
sign of activity since its discovery in
the 1970s it’s been declared extinct
hang on these look like lava flows but
any sign of lava should be long gone
obliterated by meteorite craters unless
this monster isn’t dead just sleeping
there could be magma flowing beneath the
crust right now building up waiting to
be unleashed
volcanic activity could be melting
frozen water in the soil pumping gases
into the atmosphere recycling minerals
and nutrients creating all the
conditions needed for life this makes
the Grand Canyon look like a crack in
the sidewalk endless desolation so fast
it would stretch all the way across
North America
but here signs of activity erosion and
what looks like dried up riverbeds may
be volcanic activity melted ice in the
soil sending water gushing through this
Canyon underground volcanoes could still
be melting ice creating water and where
there’s water that could be life
the hunt for life is spearheaded by this
humble fellow the NASA rover Opportunity
it’s finding evidence that these barren
Plains were once ancient lakes or oceans
that could have harbored life
look at those gullies probes orbiting
Mars keep spotting new ones more proof
that Mars is alive and kicking that
water is flowing beneath its surface
right now water that could be sustaining
Martian life
now what we have to do is find it
maybe we’ve already found what we’re
looking for on earth some think that
life started here and then migrated to
earth an asteroid impact could have
blasted fragments of Mars complete with
tiny microbes out into space and on to
the young earth where they sowed the
seeds of life
no wonder we find Mars fascinating this
could be our ancestral home it could be
we are all Martians
the Mars we thought we knew is gone
replaced by this new active changing
planet and if we don’t know Mars our
next door neighbor how can we imagine
what surprises lie ahead our compass
points across the cosmos back in time 14
billion years to the moment of creation
this is getting scary it’s like being
inside a giant video game
these are all two-wheel asteroids some
of them hundreds of miles wide
this one must be about 20 miles long and
they’re perched on it a space probe
can’t have been easy parking on an
asteroid traveling at 50,000 miles an
hour it’s a lot of effort just to
investigate some rubble rubble that
regularly collides breaks up and rains
down on earth as meteorites our
ancestors saw shooting stars as magical
almonds and they were right
rubble like this came together to make
the planets including our own pretty
magical
by dating the meteorites found on earth
we can tell the planets were born 4.6
billion years ago these are the birth
certificates of our solar system
for some reason these rocks didn’t form
into a planet
something must have stopped them
something powerful
Jupiter what a monster at least a
thousand times bigger than Earth so vast
you could fit all the other planets
inside it something this massive
dominates its neighbors its gravity is
pulling the asteroids apart
and it’s breathtaking
but this beauty is a beast
it’s almost all gasp land here have
wheat sink straight through its layers
into oblivion at Jupiter’s good looks
the product of ferocious violence it’s
spinning at an incredible rate whipping
up winds to hundreds of miles an hour
contorting the clouds into stripes
Eddie’s whirlpools and this the
legendary Great Red Spot
the biggest most violent storm in the
solar system at least three times the
size of Earth it’s been raging for over
300 years
all these churning clouds must have
sparked an electrical storm just one
boat is 10,000 times more intense than
any at home
looks like the safest place to see
Jupiter is from a distance up there at
the polls those dancing lights they like
the Aurora’s back home
but the Geiger counter is going wild
even these are deadly generated by
lethal radiation
about here nothing is what it seems
the universe is full of terrors
traps
maybe this is a safe haven the
multicolored moon Io
wrong very wrong those brilliant colors
are molten rock volcanoes spewing lava
our journey across the universe is
turning into a struggle for survival
we’ve got to hope that if we outlast the
dangers we’ll be rewarded by wonders
beyond imagination
400 million miles from Earth flying the
commercial airliner here would take
nearly a century
looking place and yet strangely familiar
a bit like the Arctic with all that ice
for those ridges and cracks
it’s Jupiter’s moon Europa and maybe
like the Arctic this ice is floating on
water liquid water
but we’re half a billion miles from the
Sun surely Europa is frozen solid
unless Jupiter’s gravity is creating
friction deep inside heating the ice
into water allowing life to develop in
the waters beneath its frozen crust we
might be feet away from aliens from a
whole ecosystem of microbes crustaceans
maybe even squid the only thing between
us and the possibility of alien life
this layer of ice but until we send a
spacecraft to drill here
Europa’s secrets will remain beyond
reach
it’s captivated our imaginations haunted
our dreams and here it is spinning
before our eyes
Saturn named for the Roman God who
reigned over a golden age of peace and
harmony
this planet’s a giant ball of gas so
light it would float on water
it’s spectacular rings would stretch
almost from earth to the moon
there’s the Cassini orbiter it’s picking
up ghostly radio Commission’s probably
generated by Aurora’s around Saturn’s
poles this is the real music of the
spheres
[Laughter]
Cassini’s telling us where these rings
came from they’re the remnants of a moon
shattered by Saturn’s gravitational pole
incomparable beauty from total
destruction
billions of shards of ice some as small
as ice cubes others the size of houses
they collide break apart reassemble
it’s like a snapshot of our early solar
system as dust and gas orbited the
newly-born Sun and gravity worked it’s
magic
pulling the lumps together until from
space trashed like this our home emerged
we could stay here forever
but there’s so much further to go so
much more to see
but this moon wrapped in thick clouds
tightly
there’s an atmosphere down here there’s
wind rain even seasons rivers lakes and
oceans
it looks so familiar so similar to earth
but that’s not water it’s liquid natural
gas hundreds of times more natural gas
than all the Earth’s oil and gas
reserves maybe one day we’ll use this
energy to fuel a colony assuming there
is a life here already
the Huygens space probe is here to find
out it’s telling us there’s organic
material in the soil but it’s so cold
minus 300 degrees
there’s no way life could develop unless
Titan warms up the Sun is supposed to
get hotter when it does maybe life will
spring up here just like it did on earth
and as the earth gets too hot for us
maybe we’ll move to Titan
one day we might call this distant land
home
home where at least 700 million miles
away now after this we lose visual
contact with earth we’re standing on a
cliff looking out over a great chasm
that stretches to the beginning of time
do we have the courage to jump we’re in
the solar system’s outer reaches unseen
from earth unknown for most of history
it’s like diving into the depths of the
ocean
those rings make it look like Uranus has
been tilted off its axis toppled over by
a stray planet
it’s eerie out here already beginning to
feel small lonely maybe this is how
we’ll feel at the edge of the universe
but we’ve barely left the shore if the
solar system was one mile wide so far
we’ve traveled about three inches
out of the deep the leather strange
beasts the god of the sea
Neptune this world is covered in methane
gas
and a storm as big as Earth whipped up
by savage a thousand mile an hour winds
back home it’s the Sun that drives the
wind but Neptune’s far away something
else must be creating these ferocious
winds
we know very little about our own solar
system
after all those balls of gas a solid
moon triping solid but not stable just
look at those geysers cosmic smokestacks
pumping out strange soot and this moon
is revolving around Neptune
in the opposite direction of the planets
spin a cosmic battle of wills that this
angry moon is destined to lose
Neptune’s massive gravity is pulling on
Triton slowing it down reeling it in one
day it will be ripped apart by Neptune
and that’s it no more moons no more
planets in our solar system it’s getting
colder we’re getting further from the
Sun slipping from the grip of its
gravitational tentacles
but this isn’t a void it’s teeming with
frozen rocks like Pluto until recently
we thought Pluto was alone beyond it
nothing they were wrong more frozen
world’s discovery so new nobody can
agree what to call them plutinos ice
Dwarfs
qb1 owes our solar system is far more
chaotic and strange than we had imagined
now we’re eight billion miles from home
the most distant thing ever seen that
orbits the Sun another small icy world
Sedna discovered in 2003 its orbit takes
ten thousand years to complete
hang on there’s something else out here
ten billion miles from home the space
probe Voyager one this bundle of
aluminium and antenna
give us close-up views of the giant
planets and discovered many of their
strange moons it’s traveling 20 times
faster than a bullet sending messages
home that gold plaque it’s a kind of
intergalactic message in a bottle
a greeting recorded in different
languages and a map showing how to find
our home solar system the great
physicist Stephen Hawking thinks it was
a mistake to roll out the welcome mat
after all if you’re in the jungle is it
wise to call out
these comets look like the ones we saw
earlier there’s a theory that the raw
materials for life began out hiris until
something dislodged it sending it
hurtling towards the earth and seeing
all this ice
maybe comets carried water to earth to
the water in the oceans in your body all
from this distant celestial ice machine
we’re 5 million million that’s 5
trillion miles from home but this is
still only a baby step ahead trillions
of miles billions of stars time to stop
looking back and start looking ahead to
step out into the big wide universe
interstellar space
billions of stars like our own Sun many
with planets many of those with moons
it’s hard to know which way to go there
are infinite possibilities
we’re going to need a serious burst of
acceleration
25 trillion miles from home a 150,000
year ride in the Space Shuttle we’ve
only just reached the first solar system
beyond our own Alpha Centauri not one
but three stars spinning around each
other locked in a celestial standoff
each stars gravity attracting the other
their blazing orbital speed keeping them
apart
get between them and we’d be vaporized
trillions of miles from home
so far that miles are becoming
meaningless out here we measure in
lightyears
light travels six trillion miles a year
so we are over four light-years from
home distances so fast
they’re mind-boggling
who knows what strange forces lie ahead
or we’ll discover when if we reach the
edge of the universe 10 light-years from
Earth the star epsilon a written I
spectacular rings of dust and ice and
somewhere in there planets forming out
of the debris being born before our eyes
asteroids comets everywhere we can
almost be looking at our own solar
system billions of years ago with comets
delivering the building blocks of life
to these young planets
at the center of all the action a star
smaller than our Sun still in its
infancy any life in this solar system
would be primitive at best
there must be more mature solar systems
out here but finding them is like
looking for a needle in a cosmic
haystack
20 light-years from Earth star Gliese
581
it’s about the same age as our son
this planet is just the right distance
from its Sun any closer and water would
boil away any further and it would
freeze ideal conditions for life to
emerge
and if a comet has struck delivering
water and organic materials than life
complex beings like us even
civilizations like our own could be down
there right now
they could be tuning into our TV signals
watching shows from 20 years ago
[Applause]
but until we devise a way of
communicating over these vast distances
all we can do is speculate thus and them
living parallel lives unaware of each
other’s existence
unless life has come and gone that’s the
problem with comets their creators and
destroyers as the dinosaurs found out
the hard way this is the needle in the
cosmic haystack the closest we’ve come
to a habitable solar system like our own
but it’s a chance encounter there could
be hundreds millions more solar systems
like this out there or not at all
some of the atmosphere on this planet
Bellerophon is being boiled away by its
nearby star
from earth we can’t see planets this far
out there obscured by the brilliance of
their neighboring stars
but the planets have a minut
gravitational pull on those stars
measure these tiny movements and we can
prove they exist that’s how we track
down
Bellerophon in the 1990s and hundreds of
other distant planets 65 light-years
from Earth turn on your TV here and
you’d pick up
Hitler’s Berlin Olympics
the twin stars of alcohol known to the
ancients is the demon star from Earth it
appears to blink as one star passes
across the other up-close it’s even
stranger one star is being sucked
towards the other almost 100 light-years
from home faint whispers from one of the
first ever radio broadcasts
from here on out it’s as if the earth
never existed feels like a lifetime
since we stood on that beach looking up
at the sky wondering where and how we
fit in
we’ve learned one thing for sure the
universe is too bizarre – startling
for us to guess what lies ahead
deep inside our galaxy the Milky Way
pinpricks of light that have inspired a
thousand and one tales the Seven Sisters
the daughters of the ancient Greek god
atlas transformed into stars to comfort
their father as he held the heavens on
his shoulders
in this giant Betelgeuse the brightest
biggest star we’ve seen so far six
hundred times wider than our Sun
but this it’s not a star
not a planet not like anything we’ve
seen
a ghostly specter more than 1300
light-years from Earth Orion’s dark
cloud
dust and gas shrouding us
they’re deep inside a light pulling the
dust and gas towards it
heating up merging into a ball of
burning hot gas like a star like our Sun
in miniature inside it’s millions of
degrees so hot it’s beginning to trigger
nuclear reactions the kind that keep our
sun shining making energy radiation
light a star is being born
Orion’s dark cloud is a vast star
Factory
we’re witnessing the birth of the future
universe
we’ve come to expect a destruction but
this is one of the universe’s greatest
acts of creation star birth
this doesn’t look right
jets of gas exploding out with
tremendous force blasting dust and gas
out for millions of miles
it’s unbelievably violent and creative
nebula vast glowing clouds of gas
hanging in space with no wind out here
they’ll take thousands of years to
disperse they seemed to be forming a
vast stellar sculpture nature is more
than a scientist an engineer it’s an
artist on the grandest of scales
and this is a masterpiece
stars are born grow up and then then
what do they die do they slip quietly
into the night or go out with a bang
somewhere between here and the edge of
the universe lies the answer
luminous clouds suspended in space
encircling what was once a star like our
own Sun all that’s left of it are these
brightly colored gases elements formed
by nuclear reactions deep inside
released into space on its death green
and violet hydrogen and helium the raw
materials of the universe red and blue
nitrogen and oxygen the building blocks
of life on earth for us to live stars
like this had to die
every atom in our body was produced by
nuclear fusion in stars that died long
before the earth was even born we are
all the stuff of stars
our family tree begins here
at its heart the ghost of a star
a white dwarf white-hot small but
unbelievably dense in the stars dying
moments it’s atoms fused and squeezed
together making it so dense that just a
teaspoon of this white dwarf would weigh
one ton it’s a chilling premonition of
our son’s fate six billion years from
now it’ll become a white dwarf its death
will herald the end of life on Earth
makes you wonder how many other worlds
have come and gone celestial stories
left untold lost forever
but the greatest story of them all is
still to be told we must go back through
time to the very first chapter to learn
how the universe began the scattered
remains of a dead star the Crab Nebula
6,000 light-years from home deep inside
a stellar graveyard we’ve learned so
much seeing things we’d never have
believed possible now sites like this
wonders once beyond imagination we take
in our stride we’re ready to face
whatever lies ahead determined to reach
the edge of the universe this is the
calm after the storm after a massive
explosion a supernova that turned a star
into dust and gas
the eye of the storm
a spinning pulsating star a pulsar
gravity has squeezed the giant Stars
core down to this
it’s just 12 miles across unimaginably
dense one pinhead of this would weigh
hundreds maybe millions of tons and as
it shrank like a figure skater spinning
on the spot arms outstretched then
pulling them in it began to spin faster
two beams of light energy radiation
spinning 30 times a second powering the
huge cloud of dust and gas there’s so
much radiation here more even than on
the Sun
that was easily the deadliest thing
we’ve encountered so far
once it would have terrified us
now we realize it without the dangers
there be no wonders without the
nightmares there be no dreams
getting a strange sensation a feeling as
though there’s something bad out here
a malevolent presence one thing we
didn’t want to encounter impossibly
black blotting out the stars behind it
we’re staring into the face of
extinction
the remains of a giant star
a black hole
far denser than a pulsar
and impossible to resist
it’s gravity is so intense not even
light can escape
this asteroid it’s a lump of solid rock
but it’s actually stretching being
dragged towards the gaping hole inside
there’s no matter as we know it in time
no space all the rules of physics
collapse
the asteroid is gone nobody really knows
where this is the edge of human
understanding there could be millions of
black holes creeping around our galaxy
more perhaps than all the stars in the
sky but we wouldn’t see them until it
was too late like this star spiraling
disappearing down an invisible sinkhole
who’s to say we don’t live inside a vast
black hole that the whole universe is an
inside one right now inside another
universe think about it for too long and
your mind reels
sometimes it feels like the more we see
the less we know
and we’re still in our own galaxy the
Milky Way the vastness of the universe
beyond still lies ahead the wonders the
dangers the secrets they’re out there
waiting to be discovered
7,000 light years from home
it’s as though we’re in a forest thick
with trees each so beautiful so
fascinating it’s impossible to look
beyond to see the bigger picture we have
to find a way through to reach the
clearing at the galaxy’s edge
but faced with sites like this it’s hard
to leave colossal glowing cloud topped
by these great towers of dust the
pillars of creation like a gateway into
the unknown
a star factory packed with embryonic
star systems each larger than our solar
system
they have to resist its siren song tear
ourselves away to carry on towards the
edge of the galaxy
dazzled by the milky way’s beauty
we’ve been blinded to its terrors and
strayed into a cosmic minefield like an
explosion in slow motion a massive star
millions of times brighter than our Sun
it’s going into meltdown the fuel that
sustains it is running out the nuclear
reactions that power it winding down
we’re watching its death throes
an even bigger dangerously unstable star
but this one’s about to explode and when
a star this big dies it’s a hundred
times more violent than a supernova
we’ve stumbled into the most violent
star death of all a hypernova
the cores collapsed it’s becoming a
black hole and that’s the shockwave
surging through the star ripping its
outer layers into space
deadly hyper Nova’s frozen comets
scorched planets white dwarves red
giants
tiny drops in a vast pool of white light
our home galaxy the Milky Way
we wanted to know where we fit in here’s
our answer civilizations past and
present everyone that’s ever lived the
smallest bug the highest mountain all of
it invisible not even a tiny speck
our home is a minor planet orbiting an
insignificant star if it disappeared
right now who would even notice and yet
so far we found nowhere else we would
rather live nowhere we could live
it’s only now far from home that were
beginning to truly appreciate it
look at all these stars hundreds of
thousands of them
surely one of them more than one must be
capable of supporting life
maybe here in this swarm of stars the
great cluster
back in the 1970s astronomers sent a
message in this direction detailing the
structure of our DNA and our solar
system’s location but the message won’t
arrive here for another 25,000 years
we haven’t found alien life yet but
neither have we found any reason to
believe it isn’t out there somewhere
there’s an equation devised to estimate
the number of other advanced
civilizations the result is startling
there could be millions of civilizations
just in our own galaxy
everything we’ve seen so far is inside
the Milky Way
now we’re ready to leave our home galaxy
to enter intergalactic space here’s our
chance to solve the ultimate mystery and
experience the moment of creation
beyond the Milky Way through the vast
expanse between galaxies against all the
odds we’ve made it to intergalactic
space
out here there’s no horizon in sight
even the closest galaxies are hundreds
of thousands of light-years away the
remains of galaxies ripped apart by the
Milky Way’s huge gravitational pull
scattered among nothing
this is as close as the universe gets to
a perfect vacuum but even this isn’t
totally empty
there are thin wisps of gas find traces
of dust and something else dark matter
so mysterious we can’t see it feel it
taste it touch it or even measure it
it’s so common it could make up over 90%
of all the matter in the universe if
dark matter does exist it means there’s
no such thing as empty space even out
here we’re surrounded by matter we think
it exists because of its apparent hold
on galaxies like this one the Large
Magellanic Cloud
a six billion year journey in today’s
fastest spacecraft 160,000 light years
from the Milky Way at the edge of its
gravitational reach this galaxy should
spin off into space but something is
holding it here something invisible
powerful dark matter
stars clusters of stars nebulae
it’s a vast astronomical treasure trove
look at this it’s like a string of
gleaming pearls
it’s a fireball expanding out from what
must have been a massive explosion a
supernova so bright that when light from
the explosion reached earth twenty years
ago it was visible to the naked eye and
so violent it triggered a string of
nuclear reactions forcing atoms together
creating new elements gold silver
platinum blasting the mountains of space
the gold in the ring on your finger was
forged in a massive supernova like this
trillions of miles away the billions of
years ago before we left home the
universe seemed separate something out
there up in the sky but now we know
better we are the universe and it is
within us it’s comforting to remember as
we venture through this abyss further
and further faster and faster
the andromeda galaxy
two and a half million light-years away
it’s racing through space everything
blown apart like shrapnel in an
explosion we’re seeing in this galaxy as
it was when our ape-like ancestors first
walked on the African plains
further through space and further back
in time hold on this doesn’t look right
a whole galaxy exploding
the only thing large enough to cause an
explosion on this scam is another galaxy
it looks like the end of the world
but this galaxy won’t die it’ll be
reborn a new shape perhaps even new
stars as dust and gas collide creating
friction shockwaves triggering the birth
of stars
there’s order in this chaos a pattern
behind the infinite variety an endless
cycle of birth and death
creation and destruction it’s a pattern
woven through the vast fabric of space
that binds each of these galaxies
there are billions of galaxies each with
billions even trillions of stars maybe
more stars than there are grains of sand
on all the beaches on earth
they’re finally beginning to see the big
picture and it’s grander than we ever
imagined
this galaxy the huge pinwheel galaxy is
so far from Earth that if we send a
message home now it will take 27 million
years to get there
who knows whether our species our planet
will still be around to receive it
travel home back from time past the
point where the dinosaurs were wiped out
past the moment where the first
creatures crawled onto land two billion
light-years from home closing in on the
edge of the universe going back to the
beginning of time this isn’t a galaxy
it’s brighter than a hundred galaxies a
blinding beam of energy surging for
trillions of miles something this big
this bright must be incredibly powerful
experience tells us out here powered
equals danger it looks like a quasar a
devious thing the universe
our journey could be over
the deadliest most powerful thing in the
universe
boys are a swirling cauldron of
superheated gas
this beast has a heart of darkness a
supermassive black hole as heavy as a
billion suns
it’s ripping apart whole stars devouring
them until they’re nothing lost forever
from the visible universe
we think we hope we pray we’ve seen the
worst of the universe confronted us but
no one can know what lies ahead
we’ll need to go further go faster
eight billion light-years from home more
galaxies but these look different ragged
small close together we’re so far back
in time we’re seeing these galaxies as
they were before the earth was born
they’re still young still growing
we’re getting close to where and how it
all began
look at the galaxies now the more like
primitive plankton floating in a vast
dark ocean
clouds of dust and gas dancing twirling
merging to make embryonic galaxies
they’re disappearing
we’ve gone back before the stars were
born
into a cosmic Dark Age and before that
light the afterglow from the massive
explosion that created the known
universe
this is it we’ve made it the edge of the
universe
eighty billion trillion miles from home
thirteen and a half billion years ago
the very instant of the Big Bang the
most violent most creative moment in
history everything that’s ever happened
follows from this moment
every religion every culture has
pondered it but we still don’t know what
sparked this act of creation or why
this is where our journey ends and the
universe begins
and infinitely hot small dense point
erupts
creating space time matter our universe
itself
first it’s the size of a subatomic
particle the tiniest fraction of a
second later it’s big enough to hold in
the palm of your hand
moments later it’s the size of the earth
today the light from the Big Bang is
still spreading out you can hear it as a
radio hiss
see it as television static
all the wonders we’ve seen on our
journey are sparks flying out from the
Big Bang galaxies stars planets all
cosmic debris we go forward through time
riding the blast wave
until we reach another cooling cinder
swirling in the afterglow of the Big
Bang we’re back where we started
home only now can we really know it
smaller more fragile than we ever
imagined destined to die swallowed by a
dying Sun but we shouldn’t despair we
should rejoice we’ve managed to
experience the wonders of the universe
we should celebrate our achievements
and enjoy our moment in the Sun

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