Since I've realized that religion can be a bit of a cop-out itself, with an attitude of, "why study astronomy or care about the stars when God controls all anyway", I've been fascinated with watching History Channel specials and reading up on anything having to do with space and the universe. Of course I do this more as a hobby and don't have the mathematical mind required to digest the finer points of astrophysics.
Some of the questions & thoughts which permeate my mind when thinking about what's outside our solar system, galaxy, and even universe are as follows. I allow my mind to wander a bit when it comes to this topic - for the most part I'm a grounded individual who is mostly concerned with matters of practical reality.
- Are humans part of a design, and is what we go through as a society a test for some higher purpose (religious folks, please don't think I'm talking about a heaven or hell)?
- Were we put here by another entity or being? Has the human race ever enjoyed help or education from a higher intelligence?
- Do the systems on our planet, which seemingly point to a design of security systems on Earth, exist so that if we screw it up too badly, we'll die off quickly without causing irreversible harm to the planet? I speak here of the billions of tons of methane captured in the tundra in Canada which is slowly melting; volcanic systems; even Old Faithful which, if fully erupted, could wipe out most of the American population - never mind climate change.
- Two elements - hydrogen and helium - are mostly responsible for all matter in the universe. Nuclear reactions inside stars in the early universe gave birth to different elements, those stars exploded, and some of that leftover matter created planets. This isn't a question but a pretty amazing piece of information.
- Is the location of the Earth special because we are not in the middle of a star cluster? Would life have formed in the same way had this planet been constantly lit with closely neighboring stars each night?
- As much as I want to deny a higher consciousness or power, it's pretty hard to do so when you consider the Earth's history, the history of the universe, and everything that had to happen on this planet and in our solar system for us to even be here. Were we a genetic/geological mistake? Or is the fact that we haven't seen a huge meteor strike the Earth and wipe most of us out, or have a nearby star (even our own) supernova - are these all signs that we're supposed to be here achieving something?
- How did the universe come to be - did anything exist prior to the big bang; are we in the middle of a cycle where matter expands, contracts, expands again, and if so, to what end?
- When our universe expanded, did another universe get cast off elsewhere, in a place we can't see because it's too far away or outside the borders of our universe?
These questions will probably never be answered, but it's a fun topic to ponder. Scientists are just now beginning to understand the dynamics of dark matter and dark energy, forces which previously went undetected and untheorized for hundreds of years of astronomy. We are beginning to detect the invisible, and our space telescopes are peering further and further across the universe. I'm fairly young, so outside of everyday concerns, it will be very interesting to see what the future brings in terms of what we see out there & what it all means.