We had guests on our observing site about a week ago. A pastor, his mother, his wife, and their daughter enjoyed setting up a little refractor, looking at a few objects, and working a a larger telescope that I had set up for them. We roamed from stars to nebulae and back again. Like me, they know the Master and Creator of it all, so we talked with a cheery thankfulness about each of the sights.
Midway through the session they posed a common question about where and how far away things are. I explained how the ever-so-remarkable created atmosphere permits us to live safely but also is relatively transparent, so we can see His handiwork in the stars. I pointed out that the stars that we see are in our local “neighborhood” (the Milky Way Galaxy). We looked up and found it’s tell-tale presence from the northern skies to our local horizon in the south. But the mind-bender came next, because it takes a little more thinking with some realization to see that other galaxies are not in our neighborhood but much farther away. Further, we cannot see stars in other galaxies because they are so far away. Rather, we see those little “fuzzies” of trillions of stars as a star city. Some of those are barred spirals, some plain spirals, and some irregular. Some appear edge-on, some face-on, and some in between. Inevitably I have to pull out a plate and pretend it is our galaxy, locate us about 2/3 of the way out, and then show them a line of sight from our position to some other point in the grand celestial sphere. After I did that I showed them Andromeda, our closest neighboring star city.
One cannot go to fast with this explanation, because the person needs time to consider the example, look up, think about it, and look up again. It is really quite amazing to consider how God placed the universe so we can see what we do. Then the references (like Isaiah 45:12 and Psalm 147:4) in the Bible about the stars and their placement begin to take on a fresh meaning.
Thinking back on the evening reminded me of an observation of M83 that I made in Mississippi a couple years ago. Galaxy hunting is always fun, but its the Biblical perspective that makes it so exciting. It’s not some accident or result of eons of chance working on its own. Rather, the heavens are an intentional result of God’s creative hand. So observing and recording a little of what we see causes us to appreciate the barest smallest part of its complexity. What a delightful privilege.