Shakespeare in Space #3: When We Are Born

When the Hubble telescope took a long look at one of the emptiest patches of sky in the cosmos...

When the Hubble space telescope took a long look at one of the emptiest patches of sky in the cosmos... 10,000 galaxies popped out of the darkness. Ranging in distance from one billion to 12 billion light years away, the light from some of these galaxies is among the oldest and faintest light ever observed by mankind. No other image better captures the sheer vastness of the universe. 

The quote is from Shakespeare's King Lear, in which the title character denounces the world as being corrupt and cites the example that, as newborn infants, "the first time that we smell the air we wawl and cry." Upon being betrayed and dishonored, Lear slips into madness and begins to see an alternate reality that is, ironically, closer to truth than the delusion he had been previously living under. 

Of the thousands of specks of light in this image, only a handful represent stars within our own galaxy.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team

Only a few hundred years ago, mankind believed that Earth was at the center of the cosmos and the stars above were merely twinkling lights—or perhaps gods—traversing the night sky. After having been knocked off of our pedestal in the discovery that the Earth orbits the Sun, and not the other way around, we then found ourselves embedded in a reality in which we were no longer at the center of the cosmos, and instead merely a part of it.

Ironically, our being part of it also puts us back in the center of our own personal cosmos—the universe, as we see it. In the words of Carl Sagan,

As we now search through space and travel through time with our telescopes, we also begin the process of recording the cosmos, creating an archive. We're constructing an encyclopedia of the universe as seen from our own unique perspective. 

In this way, we're at the center of the greatest stage. An impossible stage. A stage so immense that only a fool could hope to unlock all of its secrets, to understand why it exists rather than nothing at all. Let's not lament this great stage before us—there are an unlimited number of discoveries yet to be made and we should make them while we can, no matter how foolish it may seem to try. 

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