Sunday, 18 October 2009

Alan Baker - The Book of Random Access (52)

If the kingdom of the stars seems vast, the realm of the galaxies is larger still. From the North Devon coast we could see the Welsh Hills across the sea, and when night fell, the Milky Way was a pale crystal band across the sky. Our home galaxy is a large spiral system consisting of several billion stars, one of which is the Sun. Many such assemblages are so enormous that they contain hundreds of billions of stars. And yet there are so many galaxies that they pervade space, even into the depths of the farthest reaches penetrated by powerful modern telescopes. Look, I said, if you lie on the grass out here you can see the Milky Way. They rolled their eyes and smiled at each other, but came anyway. The stars were like jewels in a black roof. Below the cliff, we heard sea-surf sounding. At dawn the tides withdraw, currents pull round the headland to the grey Atlantic, past Lundy Island, where seals stare like the souls of the drowned. To have a soul would mean that consciousness was separate from the physical body. Every visible star is a sun in its own right. Ever since this realization first dawned in the collective mind of humanity, it has been speculated that many stars other than the Sun also have planetary systems encircling them, and that some will have life, even advanced civilizations. For the early Egyptians, the Milky Way was the heavenly Nile, flowing through the land of the dead ruled by Osiris.

Texts quoted:

The Encyclopaedia Brittanica on 'Galaxy', 'Cosmos'.

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