Space: Contemplation of The Final Frontier Might Just Melt Your Brain

2:08 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Everyone went outside a few weeks back to gaze into the night sky towards a "perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system" as Wikipedia calls it or a "Supermoon"  to mere mortals. This is when the moon makes its closest approach to this rock we live upon during its elliptical orbit and appears 14% larger and 30% brighter according to NASA.

When the occasional space oddity happens like this, people tend to think about our Solar System, about planets,about the Moon, and about Space. Then, the very next day, they go back into "head-in-the-sand" mode, never really giving Space a second thought. I think I know the reason why...because thinking about the enormity of Space is hard:
Since my very early years, I have pondered the vastness of Space and like most Earthlings, cannot begin to understand much about it. As a kid, I spent an enormous amount of time staring at the night sky, wondering about what was out there. As an adult, I have driven into the high Sierra Nevada Mountains on cloudless nights just to stare at the mural of stars stretching to infinity in all directions, just to ponder Space. And every time I try to comprehend what I am looking at - or looking for - I come away from the exercise empty...no closer to understanding Space than I was when I started.
You see, the problem isn't that I don't understand the concept of Space, it's that I believe the human brain is not wired to visualize the distances involved in understanding the infinite size of what we refer to as Space. Tonight, in reading space.com to see what it would take to fly just to Alpha Centauri, the very first star system beyond our Sun, my thoughts stall out:
"Sending a person to Alpha Centauri wouldn't be easy. Alpha Centauri is 4.37 light-years away - more than 25.6 trillion miles - or more than 276,000 times the distance from the Earth to the sun. Conventional rockets are nowhere near efficient enough. At a maximum speed of about 17,600 mph (about 28,300 kph), it would take the space shuttle, for example, about 165,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri."
And herein lies the problem. Alpha Centauri is only the first star system beyond our sun. But what about the next one after that? And the next one...and the next...this is where my mind starts to liquify:
Even as a young boy, I have pondered one simple question about Space. It is said to be infinite, a concept the human brain is not wired to understand. Let's say we can somehow imagine a few solar systems, no, hundreds of solar systems...no, wait, like a GAZILLION solar systems! Even if you pick a number, at the end of that last solar system is...what exactly? A wall? O.K., a wall...but if so, what is on the other side of that wall? There HAS to be something, right? Space cannot just end...so what is out past that last solar system? Yes, probably another solar system, no, a BAZILLION more solar systems...each hundreds of thousands of light years farther away from Earth. Even if you can visualize that many solar systems...wait...but then after that last solar system, which is like, a really big...what...is...after...the...[the remainder of this paragraph was never written....the author's brain was reduced to a warm pile of quivering matter.]
Before we can even try to contemplate the "Universe," we need to think about what is called the "Observable Universe," which is said to be 28,000 megaparsecs across. Each "megaparsec" contains one million parsecs and is 3.26 million light-years in size. This large-scale structure of the Observable Universe consists of more than 100 billion galaxies. Past this "observable" part of the universe is the actual Universe, which Wikipedia describes this way:     
Past the Observable Universe is "The Universe," which is at a minimum 28,000 megaparsecs large. It consists of "unobservable" regions because no light from those regions has reached the Earth yet. No information is available about this region, as light is the fastest travelling medium of information. However, since there is no reason to suppose different natural laws, the Universe is likely to contain more galaxies in a sort of foam-like superstructure. Past the Universe is the "Beyond," which consists of a region called a "multiverse," and/or other hypothetical concepts.
Great...but now I am right back to square one, where I started while lying on my back as a boy. I get it, Space is big, and now we know through research on the Internets that out there somewhere is...The Beyond. And I reckon one could try and guess where it ends...but if it ends...what is on the other side, what is past The Beyond?

And when that ends, what...is...after...the...space...beyond? Deep. So...far...out...now, Vacuum....heat...space...ending. Is that the end I see? Is that a wall? What...wall, other side...Space. And what is past that? And...and...and...

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