Stellar Universe: The Editor's Column

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 11
Man has from the beginning stood on this planet on which he was placed and peered off into the great space beyond to behold and wonder. The sun, the moon, and the countless stars have fascinated him while arousing his intense curiosity. Even to the naked eye the magnitude of what he saw was awe-inspiring and overwhelming, so that the "sweet psalmist of Israel" chanted:
"When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon, and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou art mindful of him?" Psalm 8:3, 43When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Psalm 8:3‑4). Why should the God who created all that vast celestial system take note of poor mortal man, a comparatively infinitesimal speck?
God left to man a standing witness to the power and wisdom of his Creator, as David says in another psalm: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge." Psalm 19:1, 21<<To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.>> The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork. 2Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. (Psalm 19:1‑2). Man had corrupted the earth, but the heavens still speak of the glory of their Creator, and give witness to Him day and night in unmistakable language. A better translation of the next two verses is, "There is no speech and there are no words, yet their voice is heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their language to the extremity of the world." vv. 3, 4. Without audible words, the testimony of the heavens spoke a universal language which none could mistake. So forceful was it, that even though mankind had given up God for vain idols, they were rendered inexcusable by reason of its attestation. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul said:
"Because what is known of God is manifest among them, for God has manifested it to them—for from the world's creation the invisible things of Him are perceived, being apprehended by the mind through the things that are made, both His eternal power and divinity-so as to render them inexcusable." Rom. 1:19, 2019Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. 20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: (Romans 1:19‑20); J.N.D. Trans.
If the heathen were specially accountable to God by reason of His constant testimony to them through the visible creation, which was a distinct voice to their conscience, how much more so are present-day astronomers (and people in general) whose knowledge far transcends anything known by men in old times. There is besides today the full revelation of God in the Son, and the proclamation of the gospel far and wide which renders man so much the more inexcusable.
The book of Job lets us know that the ancients of the east had considerable knowledge of the heavens, and the Chinese and Babylonians are supposed to have been the first to build elevated platforms with unobstructed views for the observation of the heavens. Then the Greeks, about the 6th century B.C., developed a fairly sound astronomy, and about 300 B. C. built a famous observatory at Alexandria, Egypt, which remained in continuous operation for 500 years. During this time Hipparchus of Bithynia cataloged 1081 stars. Galileo Galilei was the first to use a telescope (1609) which began to open up better means of observative astronomy. Then Sir Isaac Newton in 1669 built a reflector type telescope, the prototype of modern telescopes. He also made many important discoveries which put the science of astronomy on a solid basis. (It is worthy of note that Sir Isaac Newton was a devout Christian; he was a faithful student of the Scriptures and wrote a treatise on prophecy.)
In man's quest for knowledge of the stellar universe he has built larger and better telescopes until at length he has produced the giant 200 inch reflector telescope on Mt. Palomar, California. This has greatly increased his capacity to reach out into the hitherto unknown and make pictures and observations with astonishing accuracy.
Before we notice some of the information gleaned by the great Mt. Palomar telescope, let us preface our remarks with a pertinent verse of Scripture:
"Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them all by names by the greatness of His might, for that He is strong in power; not one faileth." Isa. 40:26. 0 that all would scan the heavens, and as they do, think not only of the vastness of the universe, but of the majesty, wisdom, and power of Him who created and who sustains all things! Let us obey this call and lift up our eyes and see not only the creation, but the Creator as known thereby. He calls all those heavenly bodies by names, and in the light of what is now known, this is an immense work in itself—something that man could not do.
On a dark, clear night, away from the lights of the big cities, many stars are to be seen, but only about 5000 stars are visible to the naked eye from any one spot on earth; the luminous band across the sky which we call the Milky Way is really the light from billions of stars which can only be seen through a telescope. The earth is a part of the Milky Way which is a thin, lens-shaped Galaxy containing an aggregation of about 200,000,000,000 stars. Our sun is only a small one of these. The whole system rotates in space, with each star being at a great distance from its nearest neighbor, so that the distance is measured in light years; that is, the distance that light travels in one year at the rate of 186,000 miles per second. This amounts to the staggering total of 5,870,000,000,000 miles per year. To get some idea of the immensity of the one Galaxy, the Milky Way, it should be pointed out that it is about 100,000 of these light years in diameter, and 10,000 light years in thickness.
Powerful telescopes are able to reach out and photograph other galaxies beyond the Milky Way. The 100-inch Mt. Wilson telescope has a range of 500,000,000 light years, and within that distance 100,000,000 galaxies, similar to the Milky Way, and composed of billions of stars each, are to be found. Now the 200-inch Mt. Palomar telescope has a range of 1,000,000,000 light years, within which are an estimated 800,000,000 galaxies. So great is the actual number of stars which man can now see that it dwarfs imagination. And the One who cares for each one of us, and who watches over the sparrows, has made them all. "O LORD, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all." Psalm 104:2424O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. (Psalm 104:24). Surely even the feeble conception we have of the vastness of the creation awakens within us the spirit of praise and adoration to His great name.
Then if we turn our thoughts to the size of these great celestial orbs, we are again awestruck; for example, the star Betelgeuse, in the constellation Orion, has a diameter of 215,000,000 miles as against a diameter of 865,000 miles for our sun. The largest star the dimensions of which are known with reasonable accuracy is a Aurigae. It is about 390,000,000 miles in diameter, or approximately 450 times that of the sun. The smallest star known, Von Maanen's star, is thought to be about the same size as the earth, with a diameter of only 7900 miles. At every turn we can exclaim with the psalmist, "When I consider Thy heavens,... what is man?" Strange that he should feel himself to be so great that he can reason against his Creator! or fail to accept the Bible as His revelation—that Book which has never been opposed to any scientific fact, but has stood out as an unfailing beacon to those who might be shipwrecked on the rocks of human speculation. And yet, Dr. Max Mason, who wrote the foreword to a book entitled "Photographic Giants of Palomar" says, "Man wants to know and nothing will stop him. We grope dimly through our ignorance, driven by an insatiable curiosity inherited from our simian ancestors." (Italics ours.) It is beyond us to understand how one can gaze into the heavens with the instruments of today and then turn back and speak of an ape ancestry of the human race- to turn from facts beyond all fancy and imagination to an unsupported and unprovable hypothesis.
If we think of what man has accomplished, even in the realm of observative astronomy, we may well praise God who endowed him with such faculties. But how little thanks, or even credit, the Creator receives from His tiny creature, whose intellectual powers are often used to reason against God and His revelation. But God will be God in spite of all, and He will be glorified in both the salvation of the believing sinner who trusts in the precious blood of Christ, and in the damnation of those who despise and those who neglect "so great salvation."
In closing let us turn our thoughts to God and His wisdom and grace while we adoringly meditate on the words of an old hymn:
"Great God of wonders! all Thy ways
Are wondrous, matchless, and divine;
But the blest triumphs of Thy grace,
Most marvelous, unrivaled shine.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
"Crimes of such horror to forgive,
Such guilty, daring worms to spare;
This is Thy grand prerogative,
And none can in that honor share.
Pardon, 0 God! is only Thine;
Mercy and grace are all divine.
"In wonder lost, with trembling joy,
We hail the pardon of our God;
Pardon for crimes of deepest dye,
A pardon traced in Jesus' blood.
To pardon thus is Thine alone;
Mercy and grace are both Thine own.
"Soon shall this strange, this wondrous grace,
This perfect miracle of love,
Fill the wide earth, while sweeter praise
Sounds its own note in heaven above.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich, so free?"