o wonder that people often believe they are zeros, nonentities lost in a sea of space and time.
"Behold a Universe so immense that I am lost in it. I no longer know where I am. I am just nothing at all. Our world is terrifying in its insignificance." So wrote Bernard de Fontenelle (1657-1757), capturing the mood of his generation as the true extent of the Universe became known. The early scientists who had sought to fathom God's ways in creation had discovered a Universe so vast that God's greatest creation, humanity itself (Figure 174), seemed like a mere candle flickering in the dark of a medieval cathedral.
In 1543 Copernicus' De Revolutionibus was published and we perceived ourselves to be living in a heliocentric world, but Copernicus never sought to demote humankind, as we shall see later. As telescopes were pointed to the heavens, astronomers have found our Sun to be but one of 100 000 million stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Today we know that if we were to count all the stars in the Milky Way at a rate of one every second, the process would take over 2500 years!
In this chapter we wish to tackle de Fontenelle's fear of the immensity of the Universe with its implications of the apparent irrelevance of mankind, and of the insignificance of our human world.
Astronomers find the observable extent of our Universe to be very large. We have, at length, discussed the work of Edwin Hubble in relation to the morphologies (shapes) of galaxies and in galaxy classification studies. In 1929, Hubble published a famous cosmology paper
The Insignificance of Man?
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