God’s center is everywhere, His circumference nowhere.-Thomas Watson
It is a blazing ball of erupting hydrogen that blasts a constant stream of superheated particles and radiation. The surface resembles visions of hell: it displays scorching hot plasma at 5500 degrees Celsius. Dark sunspots and bright filaments come and go. When active, it can hurl more than 100 billion tons of matter into space at million of kilometers per hour. Its core is beyond hot at 15 million degrees Celsius.
However, if it weren’t for such intensity, our small corner of the universe would be endlessly dark and deathly cold. Our lives literally revolve around the sun. Our orbit around it marks the passage of time, whether it be a specific time of day, season, or year. When we complete a single orbit around the sun, we celebrate in hopes of raising the qualities of our lives during the next orbit.
The farther we are from it, the more brutally cold it is. The closer we are, the more unbearably hot it gets. And without sunlight, mood, hope, and productivity drop.
Without the sun, plants wouldn’t be able to photosynthesize to create food for themselves, herbivores would have nothing to eat, and consequently carnivores would starve.
For those towards the top of the food chain, the sun’s rays provide Vitamin D. Vitamin D promotes bone growth, regulates calcium in the bloodstream, strengthens immunity, and reduces inflammation. It improves insulin sensitivity and hypertension. And its deficiency is linked to most cancers.
The sun supersedes all projections for human impact: it is 5 billion years old, and will live for another 5 billion years. Its effect spreads across one light year (9.5 trillion kilometers) across space. It is 8 light minutes away from us, but merely looking directly at it for more than a few seconds harms the eyes. An almost perfect sphere, its diameter is 1.4 million kilometers. Its mass is 333,000 times the size of our planet, and this mass accounts for 99.86% of our solar system.
Our sun is a completely average star. There are countless others just like it and countless more with greater mass and influence. In fact, the sun is considered a low mass star; high mass stars carry at least eight times the sun’s mass. Furthermore, there are stars a million times brighter than our sun, and there are single stars as large as our entire solar system.
Within our Milky Way Galaxy, there are at least 100 billion stars. This galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter. At its center is a black hole with a mass four million times that of our sun.
There are more galaxies in the universe than there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.
It is arguably most significant to know that our origins lie in the stars: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen are the foundation for life on Earth, and these elements can only be produced and released by the immense mass and pressure that fuels the nuclear fusion inside a star. In other words, stars compose the building blocks of life on our planet.
All of this begs the question: why don’t we explicitly worship stars the way we worship Jesus, Allah, or Buddha? They shine bright and live up in the sky. They are life-giving and awe-provoking. If we wanted to pay homage to something far greater than ourselves, the stars make logical candidates. They would make a reliable pantheon of gods.
There are solar references in religious images: we can see this in the Egyptian sun god Ra and in Jesus’s halo, for example. But why even have Ra or Jesus when we owe our lives to the sun and other stars?
Is it because it would be too easy and obvious? We can see stars, and praying to what we can see does not test one’s faith. And in spite of their magnificent size, power, and lifespans, stars are still finite.
More over, stars are not living beings. They may have predictable “life” cycles, and they may produce the building blocks of life on Earth, but they are still only lumps of matter. Consequently, they’re impartial to the affairs of the living. Distant, inanimate spheres cannot coerce people into certain behaviors. They shine indiscriminately, and they cannot provide direct guidance for how we should live.
But if there is any scientific subject that will always keep humanity in a state of spiritual unknowing, it is astronomy. In spite of our intelligence and technology, there is only so much we will ever know about what is out there because there is a mind-boggling amount of stuff beyond our inconsequential planet.
And looking out into a clear night’s sky or at the fruits of Hubble’s labor reveals a shimmering aesthetic that words cannot capture:
We don’t need to daydream about something beautiful and beyond us: we already have it. So why concoct a heaven when our sky can produce profound humility and wonder? Why construct massive religious edifices when the size of the stars is almost beyond the scope of our imagination? Why search for a mystical source when we can already identify that which gives us life?
Maybe there is greener grass on the other side of the cosmos.