“For God’s sake,’ the dog is saying, ‘open the universe a little more!”― Saul Bellow

The universe literally just got a lot bigger. The estimated number of galaxies in the universe just increased tenfold, from 100-200 billion to 1-2 TRILLION.

That’s a thousand billions.  Well, potentially two thousand billions.

or 2 x 10^12.



Since I can’t understand that number, even by analogy, I think it’s safe to relegate it to the realm of the infandum.


This is a significant figure for Drake’s famous equation, in which he multiplied a bunch of probabilities together to estimate how much of the universe probabilistically had intelligent life.  It looks like this and it’s really simple math:

This little simulation makes it a bit more palatable.

But wait: did you catch the gag? Drake’s equation is only concerned with our galaxy.  So no matter how low you estimate Drake’s equation (so long as non of the multiples are zero, which they ought not to be because hey, how else do you account for us?), all we are talking about is the Milky Way.  Multiply that by another 100-200 billion galaxies.  And that by another 10.

In each of those galaxies, let’s say a billion stars. So a trillion times a billion = # of stars.

And planets? It seems to be the case that planets form around stars more often than not.  Which makes sense — a planet is just a speck of dust that didn’t get sucked into the star when it formed.  99.8 or 99.9% of the mass of our solar system is the sun. 70% of the 10th of a percent remaining is Jupiter. And the rest is your mom all the other planets. So a trillion times a billion = # of planets.

Of course, these galaxies and planets and stars are all very, very far away.  How far away?  So far away, that the light from them has so far red shifted, that we cannot see them with our naked eye.  So far away that the night appears dark to us. Which is the rub: it’s not whether there is life around, it’s more the problem that they are spatially and temporally locked out of our reach.

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.

The probabilistic universe becomes ever more clear.  Patterns arise randomly, and patterns breed more patterns.  Eventually we get a pattern that self perpetuates. And then patterns make patterns that eventually pattern more patterns, until all this patterning is complex enough that it is promoted to “alive”, or better yet, the pattern becomes so complex it becomes aware of itself as a thing made of other patterns. And this complex set of patterns, perpetu-patterning, naturally likes patterns a lot and studies it, and is not only very good at recognizing patterns (being, as it is, made of patterns itself), but very much enjoys finding patterns in the universe.  And this pattern-recognizing-pattern ascribes all sorts of meaning to these other patterns, defines certain patterns as living patterns, and other patterns as mineral patterns, and still others as vegetable patterns, and eventually presumes some sort of divine pattern-maker, when really, patterns are just what pattern if you give a lot of stuff a lot of time.

It was never God the Father.  It was always God the Pattern; deus patronus.

Which, by chance, has a very interesting etymology:

“1250-1300; Middle English < Medieval Latin, Latin patrōnus legal protector, advocate ( Medieval Latin: lord, master), derivative of pater father. Both words (Pattern, deus, deity, father, pater, come from the same Sanskrit root deva,” and all that from the Proto-Indo-European root dyeu-peter “God-Father.”  And when we consider (con+sidera) or desire (de+sidera), we “hold the stars in our minds.”  Etymologically speaking, patterns, gods, thinking, power, life, light: it’s all the same stuff. star stuff.

Is there any science more interesting, more essentially harmless, more critical to answering the metaphysical questions of existence than astronomy?

And in one of those galaxies, near a star about two-thirds of the way out, on a oceany planet about 8 light minutes away from that star, holed up in a brick building, illuminated by the faint glow of a computer screen, a tiny hunk of rather dashingly ordered water and protein named Evan felt very, very small indeed.

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. — Douglass Adams

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