An Overview of the Cosmos

by Alan Caviness

Most of human history has been recorded by the human race during a period when the entire universe consisted only of the nighttime sky as seen from the flat ground here on earth. Only a few hundred years ago did humankind begin to realize the existence of an enormous physical cosmos where even a tiny fraction of it could stretch across an expanse so vast that it would tax the greatest imagination. This universe proved to be three-dimensional and very, very deep. There was no known bottom, and there was no known ceiling. No known horizon and no known end. A boundless void.

And, only in recent times have human beings begun to reach out and explore this vast unknown where one answered question often breeds a multitude of new questions to explore-an endless contest between ignorance and knowledge. We found that we are beings on a tiny, round pebble drifting through a vast emptiness-in a direction we do not know-and at a pace we do not know. We found that we did not dwell on the only world in the cosmos but on one of many worlds-or “planets”-within reachable distances-all circling in the same fashion around a star we called the sun (named “Sol”).

Further observations told us that our sun was simply one of many “stars” that populate the sky as far as eyes and telescopes could see. Eventually, human beings were able to figure out that all these individual stars (perhaps as many as a half-trillion) were gradually rotating in the same direction in a great, flat spiral of stars we came to describe as a “galaxy”. And, as we were able to build devices to help us see farther, we found that our galaxy (the Milky Way) was merely one of an endless scattering of galaxies that appeared to extend into eternity. Billions, if not trillions of galaxies. The entire physical universe seemed to be the very embodiment of eternity. The nearest full-size galaxy to us (the Andromeda Galaxy) was found to be a staggering 22 Milky Way diameters away from us. Our Milky Way Galaxy stretches roughly 100,000 light years in diameter-a light year being a measure of distance, not time. At the staggering speed of light (186,000 miles per second), it would take 100,000 years to traverse from one end of the galaxy to the other.

-Milky Way Galaxy-

To get to the Andromeda Galaxy, it would take another 2.2 million years-and that is at the tremendous speed of light. The images of Andromeda streaming into our telescopes are actually 2.2 million years old. So, we see the galaxy as it looked 2.2 million years ago. Even when looking at the Moon, we are seeing it as it was over a full second ago since it is approximately 240,000 miles from Earth-well over 186,000 miles. The farthest out human beings have been able to see, thus far, is calculated to be several billion light years. If this is correct, then our known universe is at least several billion years old. And, in every direction, the universe is peppered with distant galaxies, the most distant images being several billion years old. We see these galaxies not as they are in the here-and-now but as they were a very long time ago. Even the images of the few thousand naked-eye stars visible in our nighttime sky are from a few years old to several hundred. The universe is well beyond huge.

-Cluster of Galaxies photographed by Hubble Telescope-

And now, with very finely tuned instruments of science, humans have discovered the entire observable universe to not only be expanding but to be expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. In other words, the entire universe is expanding at a gradually faster and faster rate all the time. The galaxies are generally drifting farther and farther away from one another. Previously, it had been suspected by many that the expansion of the universe would instead be slowing down due to the pull of gravity from all its matter. Instead, just the opposite was found.

-Hubble Space Telescope-

It is understood that all forms of matter in the universe have gravity, from tiny atoms to gigantic stars. It is also believed that the empty vacuum of space is really not empty. Space, itself, may very well be stretchable and compressible-if enough force (such as from gravity) can be exerted on it. And, if this is the case, all matter could then be viewed as an “interruption” in the continuum of space.

Imagine a block of Jello gelatin on a plate. Imagine a solid marble inserted into the gelatin. Fine instruments would detect that the gelatin immediately around the marble would be curved and slightly denser than anywhere else in the entire mass of gelatin. Think of the gelatin as “space” and the marble as “matter”. The gelatin has to allow for the marble to be there-by getting out of the way. Now, think of space around a planet, or a star, being curved like the gelatin immediately surrounding the marble. Now, imagine a small incoming body gently drifting through space in what it senses to be a straight-line path and, by chance, happens to slowly drift right past the planet or star. The small body’s path begins to curve and go into orbit around the larger body. It is easy to assume that gravity from the planet or star merely “pulls” the small body into the orbit; but, this is thought to not be the case. Remember, the space immediately around the planet is curved. The small body is still sensing that it is following a straight line through space. What it does not sense is that it is actually following the curvature of space around the planet. So, what we call “gravity” is actually just the “effect” we see and not merely some invisible force, like we first thought. At this point, studying the universe becomes relatively complicated.

It is not enough to discuss space without mentioning “time”. For the two seem to be linked to one another. If space is somehow “pulled on” or “compressed” by a strong enough force then time-within that affected space-will automatically be sped up or slowed down while space and time farther away will remain undisturbed. Small scale experiments on earth have demonstrated a direct link to space and time-hence, when referring to the nothingness of space, we now refer to it as the space-time continuum. So, when it comes to space and time, one cannot tamper with one and expect the other to remain unaffected. If a spacecraft could have the means to compress and stretch the very fabric of space-time, it could theoretically perform a series of “jumps” (compressing and then penetrating space) to get to the other side of our tremendously huge galaxy in almost no time at all-making travel to the stars practical for human beings-or for any other types of beings capable of exploring the universe.

And, is it possible for life-perhaps intelligent-to exist elsewhere in the universe?

SETI - Search (for) Extra Terrestrial Intelligence

With so many stars in our galaxy and so many galaxies across the continuum, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to ask if it is possible for there not to be life elsewhere?

Our recorded history is not without hints of visitations by “otherworldly” beings-usually looked upon as “gods” at the time who came from somewhere other than the known human realm. But, because these hand-me-down records have never been suitable enough to satisfy the most recognized thinkers of our current times-the science and religious communities have traditionally rebuffed or frowned on the ancient myths and legends of most cultures in our past. But, some scientists and theologians, these days, think that it might be arrogant and unwise to overlook ancient accounts of beings coming from the sky or elsewhere to teach and guide cultures to successfully stand on their own. Even religions have their “angels”.

In more recent centuries, stories and rumors of mysterious visitors have been documented in most all cultures around our planet-in spite of their lack of contact with each other in many cases. This could be a continuation of events relating to the ancient records of old. Even today, huge numbers of people are convinced they have been personally visited by beings from somewhere other than the known human realm-beings that remain elusive and not interested in open contact with the human race.
According to many reports, they seem to utilize what appears to be an advanced technology-in our way of thinking-travelling through our realm by way of mysterious lights and structured craft-appearing out of and disappearing into thin air. The military treats the UFO phenomenon as a non-issue for the public yet has generated literally tons and tons of official documents pertaining to UFO sightings and UFO-related abductions of individual human beings. Only members with security clearances above nuclear can access information related to unidentified flying objects. And, because of the credibility of many of the people who have made reports over the years, the only rational explanation is that something very mysterious-and clandestine-is indeed going on. Perhaps whatever is going on has always been going on. But, while professional astronomers are preoccupied with listening for possible extraterrestrial radio signals from targets far into the universe, someone needs to be trying to find out just who are responsible for the ancient myths and legends of old, the accounts of mysterious visitations reported in more recent centuries and the continuing reports of strange flying vehicles and strange beings associated with them, today, right here on Planet Earth. It would seem irrational to think that all this apparent evidence has manifested throughout the entire length of human history from nothing. If only one per cent of this was true, it would be incredible.

The question of whether or not Earth is being visited by otherworldly beings is steadily drawing to a close. The human race is now armed with cameras, instant global communications and other forms of technology that will ultimately determine we are not alone here in the great void-and that we are not alone even on Earth. Our current equipment has not convinced us, yet, but as technology advances, it is only a matter of time.

Perhaps it will not be long before humans will visit the other worlds in our solar system-consisting of several planets as well as many moons surrounding some of these planets that are worth exploring for life. One moon orbiting Planet Saturn (Titan), although cold and distant from our sun, has an atmosphere (mainly nitrogen) as thick as Earth’s. Planet Mars is less cold on the surface and even warmer under the surface. One of Jupiter’s moons (Europa) is now said to be covered in frozen water with the possibility of a warmer ocean underneath. These worlds, though less hospitable to life than Earth, could conceivably harbor life in some form. Life has been found on Earth in places previously thought to be too hostile. It is also conceivable that intelligent beings not wanting open contact with the human race might station themselves on certain planets and moons within our solar system to conduct systematic monitoring and investigations of our world without interfering with us. Perhaps we might one day find ancient artifacts on other worlds in our solar system where other beings from far away have temporarily dwelled in the past.

-"Face" and "Structures" on Mars-

One thing is for certain, Earth is by far the most different planet in our particular solar system. It has a very active surface and is largely covered by water-filled with life forms. At least, in our way of thinking, it would seem to be the most attractive planet to explorers from outside our system.

We human beings have only our five senses and our local experiences here on earth plus some equipment our limited imaginations have allowed us to contrive to see a bit beyond our natural abilities. But, is a universe of matter, energy and empty space all there is? Can human beings with limited abilities detect all that can exist in the universe? Or, could there be more to the cosmos than we could ever know?

Astronomers are beginning to wonder. They have been able to measure the slow spin rates of the nearer galaxies and have found them to be rotating too fast to hold together. Yet, they are not slowly flying apart. Our astronomers cannot find enough matter (and, therefore, enough gravity) in these galaxies to hold them together at such rotation rates. Astronomers have recently estimated that they need to find almost ten times the amount of stars and dust and gases in these galaxies to account for why they hold together at such spin rates. But, something is holding these galaxies together causing scientists to conclude that in their observations approximately ninety per cent of all matter in the observable universe is missing.

The idea of “dark matter” came about in recent years to satisfy the problem for the time being. Many scientists of today believe that dark matter is something that exists throughout the cosmos but is simply too difficult to detect at a distance. Perhaps it is too cold and dark giving off too little energy to be detected. Scientists look for visible areas that might be directly affected in some detectable way by dark matter so that they can study it more directly. And some areas of the universe show peculiarities that could very well be the effects of dark matter nearby. However, nothing is certain at this point.

But the issue of dark matter is still a physical issue for a purely physical universe. Is it possible for the known physical universe to contain elements that are not physical? Perhaps there is evidence for that, already. For example, a human thought seems to be the product of energy in our brains. Yet, a thought, itself, is nonphysical. But, it can cause physical things to happen in a physical universe. We humans can think to cause our hands to move and push a ball across a flat surface creating physical movement. What exactly is a thought? No one really knows. And, sometimes, human beings seem to get a thought “out of the blue” that tells them something they could not possibly have known, otherwise. Where do these thoughts come from? Sometimes, it seems they come from “guardian angels” or spirits of deceased relatives and friends or even extraterrestrials, as some people claim. Ever get a thought that seems to come out of nowhere? Does it come from our subconscious-or, somewhere else? Is it possible that the realm we humans know is not the only realm in the universe? Is it possible for other universes to exist totally disconnected from ours? Could beings from other dimensions be visiting us from time to time? If so, what would their environments be like? Would they include space and time? Would it even be comprehensible for the human mind? And, where do our own existences go after death? At first glance, it would seem that we human beings know a lot about our universe. But, again, one answered question often breeds many more unanswered ones.

It is difficult for us human beings to remember that assuming and knowing are two distinctly separate things. Much of what is supposedly known about our universe is really assumption and is not provable-therefore, it is not truly fact. This makes room for all kinds of alternative possibilities. An advanced being might look at our knowledge base and conclude that we are way off on a tangent in our quest for understanding our universe. The fact is that our best minds don’t know very much that they can truly say is absolute fact. Established fact, maybe. But, not absolute fact.

CLICK HERE TO PRINT ARTICLE TEXT (click article title to close)