Every third Thursday the Adler Planetarium hosts “Adler after Dark,”
a chance for adults to explore the exhibits, view the night sky through the Adler’s telescopes, and enjoy a sky or space show. This past Thursday I saw an inspiring 3D show entitled “From the Earth to the Universe,” which used high-tech computer programming to take you on a virtual tour exploring the Earth, solar system, our very own Milky Way Galaxy, and beyond. We learned about the thousands of asteroids that zoom in and out of Earth’s path of orbit, making it seem remarkable that we haven’t been hit by a huge chunk of space rock…
We learned about the 62 moons of Saturn, whose patterns of orbit reminded me of the Spirograph toy I loved as a child. (You should Google it if you don’t remember that wonderful little toy.) These moons are real, but seem like science fiction masterpieces: lakes filled with liquid methane or ammonia and ice geysers. I recommend everyone visit the Planetarium at least once; there is much to learn about the wonders of the universe.
The most inspiring experience of the night was watching the computer simulation zoom out farther and farther from Earth into the universe. Watching Earth become a tiny dot, our solar system becoming a mere speck of light, and even our galaxy turning into a small swirl of light among billions. This amazing visualization effectively made my friends and me feel quite insignificant.
But it also reminded me of a recent story I read in Time magazine summarizing the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2010. The article discussed how the Big Bang should have resulted in the creation of equal amounts of matter and antimatter, according to modern particle physics. But because matter and antimatter will destroy each other, or cancel each other out, the only way for anything to exist is if the formation of matter over antimatter was slightly favored during the Big Bang. The article states, “In particle collisions at Fermilab scientists discovered that the number of muons (a kind of heavy electron) created exceeded anti-muons by about 1%. That's not much, but long ago it was apparently just enough to kick start the cosmos.”
So perhaps there is an alternative to feeling insignificant in the face of the massive cosmos. Out of such a tiny imbalance the universe was born and everything came into existence: light elements, heavy elements, stars, planets, life, and even us… which seems pretty miraculous to me.