Making Sense of Space
Astronomers have reported, after modelling images collected over twenty years by the Hubble Space Telescope, that there are over two trillion galaxies in the universe, up to twenty times more than previously thought.
The research, which was published in The Astronomical Journal, is considered the most comprehensive of its kind. The research also highlighted that – due to current technology limitations – this figure could go up in the decades ahead.
Allah (swt) informs us in the Qur’an:
“Allah created the skies and the earth and all that is between them in six days” [32:4]
Allah (swt) then informs us how this took place:
“…the skies and the earth were one unit before We separated them and made every living thing from water” [21:30]
Allah (swt) also explains:
“It is He who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon; all (the celestial bodies) swim along in an orbit.” [21:33]
And Allah (swt) explains in the Qur’an that everything in the universe are signs of His existence:
“And among His Signs is the creation of the skies and the earth, and the differences between your languages and colors. Truly, in these things are signs for men of knowledge.” [30:22]
In this article we will go through some of the details of space discoveries to draw attention to the wonder and awe in the creation of Allah (swt), and increase our Iman as we reflect on the creation of Allah (swt).
Thirst for the great unknown
Throughout history, mankind’s thirst for the great unknown drove discovery, science, and knowledge. The oceans were traversed once humans had reached the limits of continents. The Americas were reached by the Europeans during their era of discovery. In time, man even travelled beyond the planet Earth itself.
While the West dominates space travel today, space has come to be understood by many through science fiction movies and numerous fantasies.
The idea that there may be life outside the planet Earth has led many to neglect to pay attention to the power of the Creator of the universe and all the clear confirmation of His existence that surrounds us. The sheer scale of the universe beyond our planet is mind-boggling, and it is this that draws our attention to the majesty of the Creator.
Due to the fact that distances in space are so vast compared to those on Earth, distance in space is measured by light years, which is the distance light travels in space after one year. Light travels at 299,792 kilometers per second – and, with 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year – that means that the distance of 1 light year equals 9.5 trillion kilometers.
Our Earth is one of the planets in the solar system, and our solar system consists of other orbiting planets along with numerous moons, asteroids, comet material, rocks, and dust.
At the center of our solar system is our star, the Sun, which is nearly 150 million kilometers away. Our moon is a mere 384,400 kilometers away from Earth. The farthest object that orbits our sun that is part of our solar system is the Oort Clouds, which is a sphere of icy objects that are nearly 7.56 trillion kilometers away and surround our solar system.
At such distances, it would take NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft – the fastest object ever launched from Earth – thousands of years to reach the edge of our own solar system. This means the distance between one side of our solar system and the other side is a distance of over 4 light years, or – in kilometers – 3784 with 13 zeros behind it.
When we leave the solar system, we find that our star (the Sun) and its orbiting planets are just one tiny part of the Milky Way Galaxy. A galaxy is a system of billions of stars and planets held together by gravity. The Milky Way is a huge city of stars – so big that even at the speed of light it would take 100,000 light years to travel across it.
So far, astronomers have found more than 500 different solar systems in our own “neighborhood” within the Milky Way Galaxy, and scientists estimate that there may be as many as 100 billion solar systems in our galaxy.
A simple analogy to help put this into perspective would be to imagine that the solar systems are like cities, while the Milky Way Galaxy is the continents.
All the stars in the night sky, including our Sun, are only a few of the residents of this galaxy, along with millions of other stars too faint to be seen.
Beyond our own galaxy lies a vast expanse of other galaxies. The deeper we look into space the more galaxies we discover. There are billions of galaxies, possibly over a trillion – the most distant of which are so far away that the light arriving from them on Earth today began their journey from their source galaxies billions of years ago.
This means that we see those galaxies not as they are today, but as they looked billions of years ago.
Using new mathematical models, astronomers have been able to infer the number of “invisible” galaxies beyond the reach of telescopes, leading to the realization that the vast majority are too faint and far away to be seen. The farthest object that humans have ever seen is an incredible 13.4 billion light years away, which is a galaxy named GN-z11.
While humans have visited the moon and orbit the Earth regularly, the immense distances involved in travelling to other places within our own solar system – let alone the vast emptiness between our solar system and other systems – is likely beyond the reach of even the most extreme human ingenuity.
The nearest star to us – Proxima Centauri – is 24 trillion miles away. Any journey of discovery would need a spacecraft that can be powered over such long distances.
Astronauts would need to be kept safe from the perils of radiation and the muscle-and-bone-wasting effects of microgravity. They would also need to be fed and watered over such long journeys and, if they reached their destination, they would need to find a way to communicate back to Earth.
Voyager 1 and 2 – two unmanned robotic space craft – were launched from Earth back in 1977, and they only began exiting our solar system in 2016 – 18.8 billion kilometers away from earth.
The sheer size of the known universe is, to a large extent, beyond comprehension. The unknown universe, which is likely to become known over the coming decades and centuries ahead, is at such distances that scientists will need to come up with new units of measurement to express such vast distances.
The enormous size and complexity of the universe is far beyond the tallest building and most complex infrastructure built by man. And as we discover more of Allah’s creation, it becomes undeniably clear that there is nothing within in universe that could have created such enormous, vast, and complex systems other the Creator Himself – Allah (swt).
Allah (swt) repeatedly instructs us to reflect on this fact, to allow us realize how insignificant we truly are compared to this enormous, vast, and complex creation:
“Is it more difficult to create you or the sky? Allah constructed it.” [TMQ 79:27]
Allah (swt): The Creator of the Universe
Anyone with a mental faculty can comprehend from the sensed world around us that there must be a Creator. Truly, it is sufficient to draw one’s attention to anything in the universe to conclude the existence of the Creator and Organizer. Hence, looking at any celestial body in the universe and contemplating upon any facet of life indicates definitely the existence of Allah (swt).
Therefore, we see the Qur’an drawing our attention to these things and instructs man to ponder upon them, their surroundings, and what is related to them, to conclude from his pondering the existence of Allah (swt). There are hundreds of Qur’anic Ayat expressing this meaning.
Allah (swt) says:
“Behold! In the creation of the skies and the earth and the alternation of night and day are indeed signs for those of understanding.” [3:190]