Love Me to the Moon?

By ulrikebohr570 – pixabay. Public Domain
By ulrikebohr570 – pixabay. Public Domain

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%.

ESA/Hubble [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
ESA/Hubble [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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?

By NASA / Bill Anders [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By NASA / Bill Anders [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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.

Photo credit: Nigel Bovey
Photo credit: Nigel Bovey

Ruth Bancewicz is a Senior Research Associate at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, where she works on the positive interaction between science and faith. After studying Genetics at Aberdeen University, she completed a PhD at Edinburgh University, based at the MRC Human Genetics Unit. She spent two years as a part-time postdoctoral researcher at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology at Edinburgh University, while also working as the Development Officer for Christians in Science. Ruth then moved to The Faraday Institute to develop the Test of FAITH resources, the first of which were launched in 2009. Ruth is a trustee of Christians in Science and on the advisory council of BioLogos.

3 thoughts on “Love Me to the Moon?

  1. Mick Lumsden October 8, 2015 / 9:22 pm

    Hi Ruth

    As a person just trying to be more observant of the heavens (I am certainly not an Astronomer) I set the alarm for 3.00am and saw the eclipse.

    The “Supermoon” reporting seemed to me to be mere hype as the eclipse was much less impressive than the previous one I saw. I think this was because the moon was high in the sky – the last one I saw was soon after sunset and the moon rose eclipsed – it was much bigger and rose coloured!

    IMO the best bible bit relating to the heavens is when Paul talks of us “Shining like Stars” (Phil 2. 15). It seems miraculous to me that a star shines over such vast distances (that make the moon almost in my pocket).

    Travelling at 60mph it would take nearly 50 million years to reach the nearest star……………

    I think that Douglas Adam got it right “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is”.

    Thanks for your posts

    Mick

    Mick Lumsden 241 High Street, Cottenham, Cambs CB24 8QP Tel 01954 251371

    Like

    • Ruth M. Bancewicz October 9, 2015 / 9:21 am

      Thank you for your thoughts Mick. I like doing the exercise where you figure out which star you need to look at in order to see light that’s the same age as you. e.g. If I was 25 I could look at a star 25 light years away. It’s quite a thought! Of course kids under 4 lose out on this one…

      Like

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