They had to invent a new measurement, the light year, because miles wouldn’t do. One light year is the measurement of a ray traveling in one year’s time, and the speed of light traveling is one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles per second. With that speed, the closest star can be reached in four years – and we have discovered almost four million stars. With the naked eye in the night, you see only about three hundred stars. You will be surprised, because you think you see thousands of stars…try to count!
Nobody has been able to count more than three hundred. Then he gets mixed up, then he starts forgetting whether he has taken this star into account or not. But scientists say the eyes cannot see more than three hundred stars, and there are four million.
And every day new stars are being discovered which are farther away, so far away that it becomes almost unimaginable. Stars have been found whose light started coming towards the earth when there was no earth…that means four billion years, and their light has not yet reached us – four billion years with that speed. And scientists say that there are stars which will never know that the earth ever existed, because by the time their light will reach it, the earth will be gone, the sun will be dead. They started the journey when the earth and the sun were not in existence, and they will reach when both are finished. They will never know that a planet like earth ever existed.
And scientists have been shocked and surprised because every day new stars go on bubbling up. As our instruments for measuring distance become more and more subtle and refined, new stars are discovered.
Albert Einstein, perhaps the only man in history who has devoted his whole life to the stars, finally said, “Their number is infinite, and above all they are running away with the same speed as light from some center which we don’t know about. They are all spreading farther and farther away.”
It seems perhaps the idea in the Middle Ages may have been an old, ancient idea, but stars were closer! In millions of years, they have run far away – and certainly the earth is not the center; it is so small that it is almost negligible. Even our great star, which is six thousand times bigger than the earth, is a mediocre star; there are stars thousands of times bigger than our sun. And science has not been able to find the center from which they are escaping in all directions.
Bertrand Russell has a beautiful story….
A Christian priest had a dream that he had died, and of course reached heaven. But he was very shocked because the doors of heaven were so big that he could not see where they ended. In all directions, as far as he could see, there was the door. And he himself, compared to the door, looked like an ant. He was very shocked: “This is very disrespectful. I was hoping that God would be here at the gate, and angels would be playing on their harps, ‘Hallelujah!’”
The gate was closed. He knocked, but he himself wondered, “Who is going to hear?” The gate was so vast; his knock was such a small sound, almost inaudible. It took him three days continuously knocking.