by Koshin Bob Schenck
There are a minimum of fifty billion galaxies in the known universe and a minimum of two hundred million stars in each galaxy. That’s 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. The total is actually much greater, since some galaxies contain as many as a trillion stars.1 I trim the wet green stem of a white carnation. From an isolated spot in rural Nebraska on a clear dark night less than 1500 stars are visible to the naked eye. These 1500 stars are a tiny fraction of the 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, a giant spiral galaxy with a diameter of 100,000 light years or 9,939,096,000,000,000,000 miles. One of the stars in the Milky Way is our Sun, a relatively small star. I light a white candle. Orbiting the Sun are the nine planets of our solar system and their moons. The third planet from the Sun is Earth. There are about 6,260,000,000 human beings alive on Earth. Each day about 178,000 human beings are born, and each day about 177,000 human beings die. I shovel cold white snow. About 282,000,000 of the more than six billion people alive on Earth live in the United States of America, six percent of the world’s population. One of them is me. One day, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps today, I will be one of the day's 177,000 dead. I gaze at the cold, white, dead full moon. Measured at its equator, the Earth spins on its axis at 1,035 miles per hour. In its elliptical orbit around the Sun, the Earth revolves at 68,000 miles per hour. The Sun and its solar system speed within the spiral arm of the Milky Way at 43,200 miles per hour. The spiral arm of the Milky Way revolves around its center at 650,000 miles per hour. The Milky Way speeds outward toward the limit of the known universe at 1,300,000 miles per hour.2 I sleep. At 4:00 a.m. my alarm sounds, a clock radio tuned to white noise. It says, “Shhhhhhhhh!” I wake. I rise. I brush my teeth and hair. In my mirror I see me. I dress. I bow. I sit. I breathe.
1According to recent estimates by astronomers and scientists associated with the Hubble Space Telescope. 2David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace, The People’s Almanac #3 (New York: Bantam, 1982), pp. 354-355.