Smaller than a grain of sand

Do yourself a favour. Right now, go to your favorite travel website and book yourself a ticket to Cobar, New South Wales, Australia. It’s a fifteen-hour flight across the Pacific from Los Angeles to Sydney. You’ll lose a day (but you’ll get it back coming home, unless you go all the way around the world, in which case, it’s gone forever).

Then you’ll need to take a plane from Sydney to Dubbo. It’s a short, one hour flight on a propeller plane, but there’s in-flight service. Then you have two options. If it’s daytime, I recommend driving the remaining hundred and eighty-five and a half miles to Cobar. If you get in at night, either stay in Dubbo until the morning (Dubbo’s a nice town) or take the puddle-jumper into Cobar. Do not attempt to negotiate the roads at night!  The kangaroos are like locusts. They’re active and they will jump in front of your car, leading to bad karma.

At any rate when you get into Cobar talk to the locals. Be friendly. Remember, they like to fight, but they’re pretty nice to out of towners. Ask them where the transmission tower is. It’s not on Google® Maps (at least, not at the time of this writing). It’s definitely “off-menu”. Go up there during the day. Afternoon is best. Read the graffiti and have a good laugh. Some of it is very creative – my students – I feel so proud.

Then, as the sun begins to set, make sure everyone shuts up and just feel the land. The radiance of the hot Australian sun on the raw outback earth is being released (even in winter) and, as the land cools at night it comes alive. Now consider the local indigene. He or she feels the life of the land and stories begin to emerge. The effect is more pronounced in summer but then you miss the stars.

As the night begins to fall they start to come out. Count them. Over near the horizon, where the sun has just set is Venus, our closest planetary neighbor. A little later you may see Mars, glowing golden red. There are numerous apps that you can download that will tell you what is what, in the night sky. It’s fun identifying them.

Hopefully, you’ve come bundled up because you want to be here in the middle of winter. Now put the cell phone away. This is a lesson in perspective, not astronomy. The sun is completely gone now, and the stars are shining. Close your eyes for a moment. Let them adjust to the darkness and then … look up.

What do you see? Stars. As Carl Sagan said, billions and billions. It is only from down here (in the Southern Hemisphere) can you see the heart of the galaxy. Look at it. Look at its form – it does bulge in the middle, and you can see the plane that all of the stars swirl around. Lie down. Take it all in. Realize what you’re seeing. Of course, you can’t see into the heart, heart of the galaxy – there’s too much stuff in the way, but you can see, with your own eyes, the majesty of our own Milky Way galaxy, just like on TV but on a scale that makes IMAX look like a Zune (what’s a “Zune” you ask? Exactly my point). Our celestial neighborhood and it’s important to get to know your neighbors.

Why are we looking at the stars? Because this is where you fit in. You, me, everybody. How big is our galaxy? Imagine this: if our sun were the size of a grain of sand, then our galaxy would be twice the size of the Pacific Ocean. Just think about that for a moment. Imagine a grain of sand. Kneel down and pick one up. There’s plenty of sand in Cobar. Now, look all the way to the horizon – whether over ocean or outback. As far as the eye can see is a fraction of the size of the galaxy. If you flew across the Pacific, remember how long it took and how much ocean you saw when you looked out that window. You would have to do that twice to get an idea of how far that is.

Now look again at that tiny grain of sand. That’s not you. That’s our sun. You are much, much, much smaller.

How big is our sun? It is 865,370 miles in diameter. That’s kind of meaningless, isn’t it? Well, that’s what I’m aiming to do here. I’m hoping to overcome your innumeracy. Illiteracy is the inability to comprehend the written word. Innumeracy is the inability to comprehend numbers. We see numbers like this – eight hundred and sixty-five thousand miles – and we go “wow, that’s a big number.” Well, just how big?

As I said, the sun is 865,370 miles in diameter. The Earth is 7,917.5 miles in diameter. Roughly speaking that’s a ratio of 109 to 1. In other words, you could fit 109 Earths across the face of the sun with a little room to spare. That’s one hundred and nine Earths across that tiny grain of sand. And you’re just a tiny speck of schmutz on one of those Earths. How small a speck of schmutz?

At last count there are roughly 7.6 billion people on the planet Earth. How many is that? Let’s count them. Let’s say you could count one per second, it would take you 243 years (and some change) to count them all. Or let’s say you are this dot


Here’s ten of you


And here’s a hundred of you


Using a standard font and no line spacing, with margins, I can fit approximately eight-thousand of you onto a standard US Letter Size page.

That means I would need approximately 950,000 pages to have a dot representing everyone on Earth. The average book has 400 or so pages. So that would be 2,375 full-length novels.

And you are just one dot, on one of those pages, in one of those books, on a speck of dust circling a speck of dust circling a galaxy twice the size of the Pacific Ocean. And this galaxy is only one of over 125 billion galaxies so far found in the observable universe.

How small thou art.

So why do you think you’re big? The reason is simple. What is at the center of that immense universe?


And me, and everyone else. This is the part that people forget. This is the lesson to remember:

Anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere south of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Middle of winter

New moon


We are so small!


Published by The High Priest