Look up. From your walk round the block, look up. Look up from on top of your lover, look up through the trees. Find a clear sky â€“ look up.
You see the Sun or the Moon, probably. Depending on the sliver of Earth you inhabit and, more specifically, your present rotationalâ€ and orbitalâ€ â€ orientation relative to the Sun. I cannot see through your eyes, so I am unable to adapt this passage to the celestial body which caught your eye first. Please forgive me if these are reversed, inversed, or wholly unrelated to your singular observation of the moment â€“ and letâ€™s start with the Sun…
The Earth is the third planet in orbit around the Sun, named Sol by the particular community of genus homo sapiens striving to answer â€˜How did we get here?â€™ and determine whether or not â€˜hereâ€™ can ever be understood, in the way a 4-stroke engine or a Double Seed Stitch Pattern is understood, utterly, or if things are to remain for now more intangible and less explicable, like feelings towards your mother – if she was a complicated woman. Sol, the Earth, and eight other planets make up (though not in that order) what is called the Solar System (It has no other name), and these ten objects reside in the Orion Arm of the galaxy Milky Way. (Along with a few billion asteroids, some of which occasionally bubble up to the status of â€˜planetoidsâ€™ and thoroughly muck up the pristine image of one Sun, nine planets – which originally got Galileo into trouble with the Vatican â€“ but nonetheless went on to enthrall children in elementary classrooms everywhere, yet another page of crystalline, exquisite â€˜knowledgeâ€™ infected with technology – progress – doubt.) The galaxy Milky Way is a disc roughly 90,000 light-years in diameter. The Orion Arm is (very) roughly about 1/3rd the distance from the galaxyâ€™s outer edge to its center. In other words, the â€˜circleâ€™ traced by our Solar System has a diameter 2/3rdâ€™s that of the entire galaxy, or about 60,000 light-years.
The geometry of circles is such that you may compute its circumference, the length of the circle if it were snipped and laid out as a string, so long as you know the radius and a peculiar number that is called â€˜Piâ€™, represented symbolically by the Greek letter of the same name (Ï€) and numerically (Arabic System) as:
The value, as you can see, is basically three point one-four, but the oddity is that in a way itâ€™s not really anything, because it just goes on and on into infinity without landing anywhere. Mathematicians far (far) more serious than I may dispute this analysis, but so far genus homo sapiens has computed 1.24 Trillion digits of this thing, and it shows no sign of stopping.
And so with 3.14159â€¦and on into infinity coiled in our hands, we lasso the edge of our circle and wrestle it to the ground. The circle being the path our Solar System traces through the Milky Way, we emerge from the encounter with the value 188,495 light years. (Unfortunately, for a moment here the numbers get extremely large because a light-year is equivalent to 5.9 Trillion miles in linear distance, and so the length of our Solar Systemâ€™s orbit around the Milky Way is 1.1 x 10^18 miles or 1.1 Quintillion miles. Bleagh. We have crossed the line into the world of extremely large numbers, too big to comprehend and correspondingly not so interesting. Bear with me, I will drag us back into something a little more identifiable.)
It takes (again roughly) 200 Million years for the Solar System to complete one of these circles around the Milky Way (more accurately, for the Orion Arm in which our Solar System resides to do a complete revolution). Incidentally, the Sun is about 5.6 Billion years old, which means that it has circled the galaxy twenty-eight times and has only relatively recently begun its 29th trip around. Iâ€™ll spare you the math, but to do 1.1 Quintillion miles in 200 Million years, the Solar System has to cover ~ 5.5 Billion miles per year ~ 15 Million miles per day ~ 630,000 miles per hour ~ 10,500 miles per minute ~ 174 miles per second. There. Tick. Tick. Tick. We just spun another 700 miles around the galaxy. We are, to indulge in a rarely-used Stephen Hawkings quote, â€œhauling assâ€.
As you know, not only is the Solar System spinning around the galaxy, but its member-planets, the Earth for our purposes, are also spinning around the Sun. The Earthâ€™s orbit of the Sun covers a linear distance of 584 Million miles per year ~ 1.6 Million miles per day ~ 67,000 miles per hour ~ 1,100 miles per minute ~ 18.5 miles per second. So each second the Earth moves 18.5 miles in its orbit around the sun, and 174 miles in its trip around the galaxy. To make this dance even more intricate, the passage of each day occurs because the Earth itself spins, like a top, while it simultaneously encircles the Sun in a planetary system encircling a galaxy, itself encircling a â€˜superclusterâ€™ of other nearby galaxies (we wonâ€™t even go there), all tracing a circular course across the very fabric of space and time itself â€“ take a moment, catch your breath. So with the rotation of the Earth the numbers march out same as before, except this time the circumference of the circle is equal to the circumference of the Earth itself, 24,900 miles. So we cover that distance at ~ 24,900 miles per day ~ 1,037 miles per hour ~ 17 miles per minute ~ 1/3rd mile per second. Tick. We just spun 1,521 feet, moved 18.5 miles around the sun, 174 miles around the Milky Way and, just for laughs â€“ I didnâ€™t bother to spell this one out, the whole galaxy just moved 482 miles in its â€œorbitâ€ around the other galaxies in its supercluster. What all of this could be interpreted to mean is that the simple fact you just completed reading this, struggling, and perhaps deciding not, to keep these laundry lists of numbers straight, blinked a few times, and realized that youâ€™re thirsty, is what we term, in the paucity of our common tongue, a miracle.
Itâ€™s a perspective I admit, subjective and entirely susceptible to deconstruction, disputation or refutation from persons smarter, wiser, or simply louder than I. But if you are adrift, if you are asleep even when youâ€™re awake, and youâ€™re sure you could be happy but why does each day slide into the next with so little progress? Then consider what you have read here. The fundamental essence of our physical being and our existence in this place remains beyond our understanding, yet here we are. This is like music on some level, a frequency and a harmonic. Can you feel it? Was some long dormant realm of your psyche stirred by the horrible, incomprehensible beauty painted by these dry facts and figures? Feel it. The awe, the fear, the intense need to know, to understand, to be loved. Feel it resonate in that dead part of your mind and plug in, rock it back and forth, jump up and down, whatever it takes but make it bigger, amplify. That is passion. That is the energy to do, even though we donâ€™t understand and we canâ€™t predict and we wonâ€™t always come out on top. To move and give and create and build in the face of all this insanity, that is a perfection of the lifetime given to you. So look at those whom you love with this knowledge and belief and show them your passion, do not take your feelings towards them for granted, they can smell that indifference and passion has no chance in that poisoned soil. Show them how we are on the short hand of one cosmic clock, spinning the gears of another â€“ itself nested within a third and so on until you reach the most intricate, immense, fantastical clockwork ever seen with human eyes, and all of it spinning around you, around the two of you right at that moment and into every moment you will have in this world and beyond.