Stardom

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. (Psalm 147:4)

There are a lot of stars out there. We’re talking a lot. Astronomers estimate the number of stars in the universe at around 70 sextillion (that’s a 7 followed by 22 zeros), which is about 10 times as many as grains of sand on all the world’s beaches and deserts. Whoa. That be a whole bunch of stars.

Of course, the way weenie human scientists know this is by guessing. They take a tablespoon of sand, count the grains in that tablespoon, then estimate how many tablespoons of sand there are in, say, a cubic foot of beach or desert, then estimate how many square miles of beach and desert are on the planet, multiply all those guesstimations together and end up with a huge guess at the end. Since nobody has so far volunteered to actually count each grain of sand, the guess is as good as anything.

To guess at the number of stars out there, astronomers do similar, except with stars instead of grains of sand (scientists are pretty finicky about stuff like that). Since the universe looks a lot the same in every direction, astronomers aim their telescopes in one direction and count a tablespoon of stars in that slice of sky, then they do the same figuring that sand people do to come up with a guess at how many stars there are. The difference between stars and sand (other than you can get sand in your swim suit) is that astronomers can only count the stars in the visible universe. They’re pretty sure that the universe goes on a lot farther than they can see, and there’s a good chance that it goes on and on and on, and that each on in on and on and on has a gazillion gazillion stars in it too, which means that 70 sextillion is probably a lowball guess that may be so lowball as to be completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

So you’ve got this God who, after three days of creating other stuff, gets this idea to fling a bunch of massive, luminous ball of plasma held together by gravity. Suddenly the whole joint is spangled with the crazy things as if God sneezed just as he was saying “Let there be light.” ACHOO! And there they were, all over the place. It was such a powerful sneeze that God, after blessing himself, called it a day.

The difference between the sneeze theory and the Biblical record is that according to the Bible God decided ahead of time how many stars there would be. It was probably a combination of physical and aesthetic concerns. Too many stars and the universe implodes before Steve Jobs can invent the iPod. Too few and you’ve got yourself a lot of wasted space, kind of like Wyoming.

But not only does God make all those stars, he names them too. Before humans had telescopes, we tried to give the stars that we could see names, but eventually there were more stars than we had time to name and we gave up. These days we use lame numbers, like T-243, to label stars we’re interested in, which aren’t all that many. This leaves all the rest of the stars nameless. Kind of sad if you think about it. But not to worry. God has already named them all. All of them. Now, it’s one thing to number them; that doesn’t take much creativity, only an ability to add. But naming is another thing altogether. The creativity to come up with 70 sextillion names would be mind-boggling. I mean, even if everybody in the world had a different name—at least half of us are named Muhammad or Tiffany—we’d still be laughably short of star monikers. (Let’s see: 70 sextillion subtract 6.5 billion leaves . . . uh, well, leaves a lot.) Anyway, so God rises to the occasion and christens each and every massive, luminous ball of plasma held together by gravity. (Heck, they may even have nicknames too.) That’s some feat. Sometimes I can’t even remember the names of my own kids.

All this adds up to God copping the honor either for the brainiest dude in the cosmos or for the guy with the most time on his hands. Either way, the fact that he both made all the stars and can keep track of them is pretty doggone impressive. I bet he doesn’t even use a slide rule.

POP QUIZ: Can you find the star named Frank?

HINT: It’s the one next to Stella.

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