The Andromeda galaxy, a spiral galaxy similar to our own Milky Way, is the most distant object in the sky that you can see with your unaided eye. The visible fuzzy patch of stars stretches about as long as the width of the full moon, and half as wide.
In 964, the Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi described the galaxy as a “small cloud” in his Book of Fixed Stars. When Charles Messier labeled it M31 in 1764, he called it a nebula, or the remnants of an exploded star.
Until the 20th century, all objects in the night sky were believed to be part of the Milky Way, which was thought to be the entire known universe. In 1925, Edwin Hubble, using new distance measuring techniques, discovered that the fuzzy patch was too far away to lie within the Milky Way. Indeed, it was a separate galaxy, at a distance of 2.5 million light years away.
Suddenly the universe was immensely bigger and the Andromeda Galaxy is just one of billions of galaxies in the known universe.
But Andromeda remains the only galaxy like ours that you can just look up and see with the naked eye. This makes it a tiny window to the rest of the universe.
When Andromeda was first explained to me, it amazed me to the point of disbelief.
When I first saw it with my own eyes, I literally lost my mind.
The actual image is just a blob of fuzz located in the constellation Andromeda.
But the image combined with the knowledge of what it IS (or more correctly, WAS) sent me on a life-long trip that made LSD seem like de-caf coffee.
Seeing it in a telescope just magnified the experience, giving detail to the image and the knowledge.
The light hitting my eyes from Andromeda started out 2.5 million years ago. I’m seeing the galaxy as it was 2.5 million years ago. What were we doing 2.5 million years ago?
When I look up and see this tiny cloud of distant light, I enter another realm. In this realm, all living things are related. All of our petty concerns are irrelevant. No species, animal or plant, is more important than any other.
Our existence is a miracle. The fact that ANYTHING exists is an absolute miracle.
Who Are We?
When someone asks, “Who are you?” the answer is usually what you do or are called (job, nationality, race, sex, family, tribe, clan etc) or where you are from, etc.
We live in a sea of descriptions, each one wrapped tightly around us. Some of these don’t even apply to us anymore. IE “I won a piano competition when I was 12” or “In grade 2, I wanted to be a priest”.
We name and describe everything and everyone. But are any of those descriptions who (or what) they actually are?
Let’s take any person on earth, a man let’s say, named Bob. There’s only one really true thing I can say or know about Bob and it’s that Bob had two parents.
Bob also has 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents etc.
Parents 2 25 (years ago)
Grandparents 4 50
Great Grandparents 8 75
GG2 16 100
GG3 32 125
GG4 64 150
GG5 128 175
GG6 256 200
GG7 512 225
GG8 1,024 250
GG9 2,048 275
GG10 4,096 300
GG11 8,192 325
GG12 16,384 350
GG13 32,768 375
GG14 65,536 400
GG15 131,072 425
GG16 262,144 450
GG17 524,288 475
GG18 1,048,576 500
GG19 2,097,152 525
GG20 4,194,304 550
GG21 8,388,608 575
GG22 16,777,216 600
GG23 33,554,432 625
GG24 67,108,864 650
GG25 134,217,728 675
GG26 268,435,456 700
GG27 536,870,912 725
GG28 1,073,741,824 750
GG29 2,147,483,648 775
GG30 4,294,967,296 800
(Estimated population in 1200 AD = 300-400 million)
This leads to a paradox (see Paradox: Living in a Contradictory Universe ) .
The ancestors add up so fast that they far surpass the number of people alive. IE… 800 years ago, in 1200, Bob has over 4 billion ancestors. It would be 8 billion the generation before; more people than are on the planet today!
Part of the answer to this puzzle is “Kissing Cousins”. If enough 1st cousins had children together, the number of ancestors would be far fewer. 2nd, 3rd and 4th cousin pairings reduce the number as well.
Another part of the answer lies in the fact that many couples had large families, each sibling sharing the same set of ancestors.
Yet another factor is the “bottleneck” situations. These are large-scale, catastrophic exterminations caused by war, disease and natural disasters. These cause further “reproductive isolation” where the only people of the opposite sex available for marriage are cousins.
So instead of having more and more ancestors we actually have fewer and fewer. In fact only a few males and females from, say 8000 BC, are actually common ancestors of today's world population. The majority left no long-term descendants, largely because of those recurring bottleneck situations.
But… everyone alive today is related to everyone else! We all have the same common ancestors. Every one of our ancestors had to survive birth, grow to maturity and give birth in spite of disease, hunger, disasters, war and untold other hardships.
If we go back 6 million years there are no humans yet but there are the ape-like animals that evolved into all other apes, including humans and chimpanzees. Each early hominid had parents and grandparents etc. And Bob is there!
This ape-like creature evolved into chimpanzees on the one hand and humans on the other.
The reason for differences between humans and chimpanzees was caused by the rapid evolution of the chimps, not the humans. And the differences are very few.
When evolution was first discussed, church leaders and others proclaimed, “Humans definitely did NOT come from apes”. Turns out they were right! Human beings didn’t COME from apes, They ARE apes! We are all one big family and are closely related to all other apes.
Now, if we go back 70 million years, our ancestors are tree shrews… Small, insect eating, squirrel-like animals from which all primates evolved. At this time there are not yet any apes, including humans.
These tree dwellers evolved from others that had survived several disasters, including mass extinctions, like the one that killed all the dinosaurs! Five mass extinctions have threatened all life on the planet, but our ancestors have survived each one!
Long before that shrew (about 170 million years ago) was a reptile, about the size of a dog, with the very beginning of what we call mammalian features. It was the precursor to ALL living mammals, including Bob!
Recently, a fossil was found in China of a tiny worm, about one millimeter long, which is believed to be the common ancestor of all vertebrates including everything from fishes to birds and bats to whales, including humans. The fossil dates to over 500 million years ago. Here’s what the animal might have looked like.
EVERY living thing on earth has had millions of ancestors before them.
If we go back 3.5 billion years, there are only single-celled beings. At first these were not even plant or animal but were merely single-celled beings that were the precursors to all life…. including Bob. This cell is known as LUCA or the Last Universal Common Ancestor.
ALL of life is related to this common ancestor.
All life can be seen as a manifestation of DNA, the molecules that contain our genetic code. Life is the history of DNA and DNA is the history of life.
Before ‘life” there was just DNA… and RNA before that.
Once RNA formed from organic chemicals it began the pursuit of duplicating itself. This, through much trial and error, led to the formation of DNA. Self-reproduction succeeded AND failed but some DNA survived. DNA slowly mutated over millions of years. Some mutations were caused by the environment, some by direct exchange with other DNA strands. Viruses had an essential role in changing the DNA of cells.
Since DNA replication was mostly successful, some species survive to the present, precisely how they were billions of years ago. Most though, have gone extinct.
From the formation of earth to the first life there was a billion years of chemical activity
Each chemical reaction had a pre-cursor… the elements that preceded. All of the elements at play existed in one form or another when the earth was formed.
The earth was formed at the same time as the sun and the pre-cursor for the whole solar system was the remnants of another star that blew up in our neighbourhood! Its very explosion created all of the elements that are now in the solar system, indeed all the elements in living things.
So, all life on earth is directly related to the explosion of a star in our area. And that star was born of those that lived and died before. The stars have ancestors too!
Where Are We?
The earth rotates once every 24 hours, and its circumference is roughly 40,075 kilometres. Thus, the surface of the earth at the equator moves at a speed of roughly .5 K per second, or 1,800 KPH.
The earth is moving about our sun at a speed of nearly 30 kilometres per second, or 108,000 KPH.
In addition, our solar system, Earth and all, whirls around the center of our galaxy at some 220 kilometres per second, or 800,000 KPH.
We are moving with respect to the CBR (Cosmic Background Radiation) at a speed of 390 kilometres per second, or 1.4 million KPH.
Look up into the night sky and find the constellation known as Leo (the Lion). We’re moving in the direction of Leo at the dizzying speed of 390 kilometres per second!
Everything in the past is gone and can’t be changed.
The future is unknowable. In fact, the past is mostly unknowable and subject
to the limits of our memories.
We are precariously placed in the present moment…always moving and always changing.
These three: past, present and future don’t actually exist! They are merely convenient constructs of our own making. The expression, “Live in the present moment” is based on a false premise; there is no present moment to live in. Everything we perceive in the “now” is actually a recent memory of the past and/or an expectation of the future.
Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells. Each one lives and dies and replaces itself.
Every cell contains our entire genetic code, passed down by billions of previous ancestors. Our bodies are also host to trillions of bacteria, which actually outnumber our cells.
Most of the functions of the body are involuntary. The heart beats. The lungs breathe.
The eyes blink. The stomach digests food. The blood circulates etc.
If we sit quietly we notice that thoughts are also involuntary. Except for when we purposefully “think” something, thoughts just arise. We do not even know the source of our thoughts. So our experience of “ourselves” is simply thoughts and sensations that arise in our minds, last for a time, then pass away.
So it is with ALL things… arise, last for a time, then pass away.