The Millions

Writing Outer Space

Sometimes I want to be awestruck. It’s a feeling that I seek out. And so, usually late at night, I’ll open my laptop and type into a YouTube search bar: “s-c-a-l-e o-f t-h-e u-n-i-v-e-r-s-e.” I load a video at random; they all perform the same basic gesture: zooming out to incomprehensibility.

Then come the numbers. Twenty-five trillion miles to reach the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. At least one hundred billion stars and one hundred billion planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone. More than two trillion galaxies in the Observable Universe, and that’s just what we can see. Physical reality extends and expands far beyond our speed-of-light-limited view.

From our earthbound perspective we refer to all of this cosmic immensity with a modestly geocentric name: “outer space.” To me, this seems like a compartmentalization of epic proportions. On the one hand, there is the world as we know it, the ground-level of human life and everything it entails: the whole arc of history, the transformation of our natural environment, nervous first dates over coffee. On the other hand, there is the remaining 99.999…% of material reality that exists beyond the stratosphere, always there but rarely acknowledged.

Strictly speaking, “outer space” refers to the vast expanses between celestial objects, the near-perfect vacuum of space once thought to be filled with aether, the fifth element. In practice, though, we imagine outer space in much the same way that we do the ocean, so that far-flung material bodies (dusty asteroids, murky trenches) are

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Millions

The Millions4 min read
Sprawling Messes Are What I Aim For: The Millions Interviews Chris Ware
I’ve changed as a person while working on it, reflected both in how I draw and in how I write, and the nation has changed as well, which I’ve tried to acknowledge and incorporate. The post Sprawling Messes Are What I Aim For: The Millions Interviews
The Millions7 min read
Complicating Our Narratives About Addiction and Illness: The Millions Interviews Amy Long
I don’t worry about opioids altering how I perceive my life since I don’t get anything but pain relief from them. I just took a pain pill, but I’m not high. The post Complicating Our Narratives About Addiction and Illness: The Millions Interviews Amy
The Millions6 min read
Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Emezi, Ellmann, Barkan, Donoghue, Atwood, and More
It's the rare week that delivers new writing from Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and beloved medieval Persian poet Rumi. The post Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Emezi, Ellmann, Barkan, Donoghue, Atwood, and More appeared fi