As the killing, violence, destruction, and power grabs continue unabated across the globe, perpetrated by the greed and control of the powerful elites, I like to take a rest every now and again from all the chaos mankind brings upon itself and think about the bigger picture. By the bigger picture, I mean the universe, our place in it, what its purpose is, was it designed or is it just a great big quantum accident? I don’t think about religion very much when I ponder these questions as the world’s religions are also a construct of mankind which most (I accept perhaps not all), historically have been designed to control and suck the life and wealth out of people like you and me. I also include the new religion of science in that category, as it has very much become another prominent religion for mankind over the last century or so.
“Don’t question the Science”, or “Trust the Science” are frequent narratives we’ve seen used more and more lately across a whole range of impending ‘disasters’ that seemingly threaten our very existence. In reality, science should always be questioned, that’s the whole point of science, but nowadays questions that don’t support the current political narrative are no longer allowed in science.
No, I like to consider these big questions based on facts I know to be true from my own experiences in life or are at least based on sound, credible theories that are backed up by observable real-world effects that support the theory. Of course, I can’t ‘know’ everything, and would never be so egotistic as to suggest I do. So, I do listen to so-called ‘experts’ from across the academic and scientific world, as they certainly have a lot more brain computing power than I have, but I treat everything I learn with a sensible amount of scepticism rather than take everything on board at face value.
So, back to my big picture. What are doing right now, sitting here on this big round blue planet of ours, just hanging out in space? Well, for one thing, we’re certainly not sitting still. It does depend on where you are located on the planet right now, but if you are closer to the equator, you’re currently spinning at about 1,000 miles per hour (mph) or 1,600 kilometres per hour (km/h) in a circle, every day (if you were standing right on the north or south pole, you’d barely be spinning at all). You don’t feel it of course, for the same reason you aren’t stuck in your seat while a plane is flying, speed is relative, you only feel it when it changes.
Have you ever wondered why the earth is spinning at all? I have. When our solar system formed from a rotating disk of gas and dust about 4.6 billion years ago, the material that eventually coalesced into Earth inherited the overall rotation of that primordial disk. As gravity pulled the gas and dust that eventually became the Earth into an ever tighter and denser ball, it spun even faster, the same way an ice skater can spin faster by tucking their arms and legs in, and because there’s nothing out there in space to stop it, it’s been rotating ever since. Having said that, we are slowing down a bit though, at a rate of about 1 second every 50,000 years due to tidal friction with the Moon. It’s hardly slamming the brakes on so nothing really to worry about for a few billion years yet.
I’ll backtrack a little here and pick up on the point I made about the Earth being round. How do I know that’s true, could it be flat, a lot of people seem to say it is. Should I simply believe the NASA pictures of the Earth seen from space, nicely depicting our home as a sphere? No, I shouldn’t, NASA has been caught doctoring their images on many occasions, but I have flown around the world a number of times myself and I can see the horizon is curved. If the Earth were flat, the horizon would be perfectly straight. I’ve also looked at the night sky in the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere, and the stars are totally different, suggesting I am looking at the universe from a completely different angle. That’s good enough for me, the Earth isn’t flat.
So, 1,000 miles per hour is pretty fast, but that’s nowhere near the whole story. The Earth is traveling around the sun, once per year. It’s a trip of 584 million miles (942 m km) to get the sun back to the exact same point in the sky. This means the whole planet is flying at 66,667 mph (107k km/h).
So, in fact, you are spinning at 1,000 mph and hurtling through space at an astounding 66,667 mph around the sun.
But that’s still not the whole picture. Along with the other planets in our solar system we are all spinning around the sun. However, the sun is also flying through our galaxy, the Milky Way with all of its planets tucked into its gravity. Scientists have worked out from astronomical observations that the sun is moving toward other stars at around 45,000 mph (72,420 km/h) and also moving “up” relative to our galactic disc at about 15,700 mph (25,267 km/h).
Our Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy, which means it has a spiral shape with a bar of stars across its middle. The galaxy is huge, at least 100,000 light-years across, making it the second biggest in the local group of galaxies in our wee corner of the universe. This mass of stars, gas, planets, and other objects that make up the Milky Way are all spinning, just like a pinwheel. Our galaxy is rotating at 604,800 mph (973,331 km/h) and takes about 200 million years to complete one rotation, according to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. We’re located about halfway out from the centre of the spiral on one of the long arms called the Orion Spur. It takes our Solar System about 225 million years to make one rotation of the Milky Way. Dinosaurs were just starting to roam the Earth the last time we were in the same position we are in today.
So, as I said, you’re not just sitting there. As you read this you are actually hurtling around our Milky Way galaxy at an astounding 733,167 mph (1,179,918 km/h).
We’re still not done yet either. You, me, the planet, the solar system, and our entire Milky Way galaxy are also being pulled across the universe. At the moment we’re heading towards the Andromeda galaxy at a pretty good clip. Numbers vary, as everything is moving and there are no real reference points, but a recent 2013 paper clocked it at around 252,000 mph (405,554 km/h) and we’re also moving toward the constellation Hydra at about 1,342,000 mph (2,159,739 km/h), and toward Virgo at about half that. So, you and I are very likely travelling across the universe right now at around 3 million mph (4.8m km/h), and we’re not even spilling our tea.
Here’s something else that’s interesting. In 2008 a team of researchers made an intriguing discovery while studying the cosmic microwave background radiation. They observed that galaxy clusters seem to be moving in a consistent direction, converging towards a specific point in space. No one at the time understood what was causing this mysterious pull. They named the phenomenon dark flow. Astronomers were thinking that something must be causing the dark flow and some scientists had suggested that the Great Attractor, a gigantic concentration of mass located 250 million light years away in the region near the constellations Hydra and Centaurus may be the culprit. However, a later discovery that the movement of some colossal galaxy clusters that were originally thought to have been affected by the Great Attractor were discovered to be racing towards a slightly different area of space, and this time there was no apparent reason for it. This was completely unexpected as according to Hubble’s Law; all galaxies should be moving uniformly away from each other. A three-year survey discovered a large group of galaxies which all seemed to be moving in roughly the same direction at speeds up to 600 miles per second. The galaxy clusters were strangely all heading towards a small dark area of deep space between the constellation Centaurus and Vala. No one knows what’s there, but there must be something in that part of the universe that is pulling us all towards it. Thankfully, we won’t still be around to find out what it is when we finally get there.
So, in summary, you’re not really just sitting there quietly in your armchair. In fact, as you read this you are hurtling through space at 3 million miles per hour towards some unknown dark force that is pulling you in.
Anyway, let’s not get started on dark forces in the universe, we have enough of those to contend with here on Earth. I’ll save that for another day.