Looking up into the clear evening sky

Sabi Sand | July 2020

Last night I had the privilege to spend a few hours alone out in the bush on an exceptionally clear and dark night. With a dark night and a decent pair of binoculars a whole magical universe can be explored. Nowadays with smartphones there are amazing stargazing apps available to assist you in finding some of the star clusters, nebulas and planets that are available.

So, when you look up and start searching, there could be anything from 5 000 to 10 000 stars visible. These are all amazing to look at, but I think we should look at some figures and numbers to truly understand how incredibly amazing it is.

Firstly, we can look at the Milky Way Galaxy that we are in. It spans roughly 100 000 light years across, which means that light travelling at 186 282 miles per second will take around 100 000 years to get from one end to the other. If we break down the size even more into just our solar system (our sun and all the planets) the sun would be the size of a single blood cell in an area the size of the United States of America!

Considering the fact that science believes that there are around 350 billion galaxies out there, we really are a very special tiny part of it all. With the help of the Hubble Space Telescope as well as the Herschel Telescope we are finding out more and more. Scientists now believe that there could be around 20 billion planets just in the Milky Way Galaxy alone that are in what is called the Habitable zone. This means that the planet is not too hot or not too cold for liquid water to be present which could sustain any form of life.

This bring me to my final point… and one that we have most probably all discussed, is there life on other planets out there and will we ever receive any visitors? This is a highly debated subject and I don’t think that anyone can say for sure. The best explanation I recently heard was that there could be, however our scientific timeline and theirs would have to be in very close proximity. Considering that the Wright brothers only invented motorized flight in 1903 and the first object blasted into space (Sputnik 1) was only in 1957, just in our Galaxy alone would then roughly be a 1 in 20 billion chance….

All of this sounds like a lot to take in, however for me at least it just makes looking up into the dark night sky even more magical!