Anyone who was up at around 2 or 3 am on Monday last week might have seen a rare astronomical event. Lunar eclipses happen at least once or twice a year, but this one was unusual because it happened when the moon appeared larger and brighter than at any other point in the month. The next ‘supermoon’ eclipse’ is due in 2033.
The moon’s orbit around the earth is elliptical, so its apparent size changes throughout the month. You may not have noticed the difference between a ‘perigee’ and ‘apogee’ moon, but that’s hardly surprising. When something is about 385,000 kilometres away, a difference of 50,000 kilometres only changes its size in the sky by about 7-8%.
I have heard professional astronomers say it would be impossible to keep the vast scales of our solar system, galaxy and the universe in mind all the time and function normally. But every now and then it is worth trying to wrap our heads around these distances, to help us grasp a little more of the character of the God who ‘also made the stars’ (Genesis 1:16).
One way to connect more personally with astronomical scales is to consider the total amount of DNA in our bodies. Each of our cells contains two metres of this molecule, coiled up very tightly. If we took all the DNA out of every cell, unrolled it and added it end to end, how far would it reach?
The average adult has about 50 trillion (50,000,000,000,000) cells in his or her body. Multiplied by two metres, that makes around 0.1 trillion kilometres of DNA, which is immense compared to the distance to the moon. The sun is around 150 million kilometres from earth, so our DNA would take us there and back more than 300 times. Pluto is 50 times further away, and we could take the round trip at least six times.
A popular children’s book features a little hare whose dad says he loves him ‘to the moon and back’. It’s a cute story but compared to the love of the creator of the entire universe, it pales into insignificance. In Matthew 10 Jesus describes God’s care for us, saying that ‘even the very hairs on your head are numbered’. Looking at the scale of the universe he made, how much more does it bring home the incredible power and potential of that intimate, individual attention?
Reposted here with permission of The London Institute for Contemporary Culture.