The Stars Shine On: The Language of the Heavens

Andromeda Galaxy

During an evening this past summer, our family spent some time doing what virtually all of us do at one time or another. We went outside and looked at the stars. Given the glare of city lights, it wasn’t a perfect view as these things go. And yet it wasn’t easy to get my kids back in the house to get ready for bed. There’s just something about looking at all those stars.

As great a spectacle as the night sky is with the naked eye, it can sometimes take on even more wonder when we view it with the aid of technology. In low orbit around the Earth, the famous Hubble Space Telescope is able to take extremely high resolution images of space without distortion from the atmosphere.

One of Hubble’s most recent projects has been to capture the sharpest and largest image ever taken of the Andromeda Galaxy. The full image contains 3.9 billion pixels and covers an area approximately 60,000 light years. (The image displayed at the start of this post is cropped version, containing 1.5 billion pixels, which would still require over 600 HD televisions to display fully).

A few more relevant facts:

  • The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest major galaxy to our own Milky Way.
  • It’s “only” 2.5 million light years away.
  • The full image is a mosaic taken from 7,398 exposures from 411 pointings. According to NASA, it’s like “photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand.”
  • The image contains over 100 million stars and thousands of star clusters. (The entire galaxy contains 1 trillion stars.)

While the panoramic view is stunning, you owe it to yourself to spend at least a brief amount of time with this zoom capable image.

And here’s a video that zooms in on Andromeda in the night sky from a ground based view.

Why mention all this? Well, it’s cool stuff for one. But it also helps me have another level of appreciation for passages like the following:

Psalm 19:1-4b: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 147:4-5: He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.

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