THE MILKY WAY
32. During some beautiful starry, moonless nights, everyone has observed this beautiful white light which traverses the heavens from one extremity to the other, and which the ancients have named “The Milky Way” on account of its milky appearance. This diffuse light has long been explored by the aid of the modern telescope; and this road of powdered gold, or this spring of milk of antique mythology, has been transformed into a vast field of unknown wonders. The researches of observers have led to a knowledge of its nature, and have shown that, where the unaided vision could behold only a feeble light, millions of suns, more important and larger than that which illuminates the Earth are to be found.
33. The Milky Way indeed is a country sown with solar or planetary flowers which shine in its vast extent. Our sun and all the bodies accompanying it make a part of these radiant globes of which the Milky Way is composed; but notwithstanding the sun’s gigantic dimensions relative to the Earth, and the vastness of Earth’s empire, it occupies, however, only an unappreciable place in this vast creation. One can count thirty millions of similar suns revolving in this boundless region, apart from one another by distance more than a hundred thousand times as great as that of the terrestrial orbit. *
* More than three trillions four hundred billions of leagues.
34. One can judge, by this approximation, of the extent of this sidereal region, and of the relation which unites our system to the universal whole of the systems which occupy it. We can thus judge of the comparative smallness of the solar domain, and much more of the infinitesimality of our little Earth. How, then, are the people who inhabit it to be considered?
When I say diminutiveness of our little Earth, our assertions apply not only to its material form and to the physical extent of the bodies which we study, but still more, and above all, to the moral state, to the degree to which they have attained in the universal hierarchy of beings. In this latter phase creation is shown in all its majesty, creating and propagating everything by the solar world, making manifestations of life and intelligence in each one of the systems which surround it on every side.
35. One becomes acquainted only in this way with the position occupied by our sun, or by the Earth in the starry expanse. These considerations will acquire greater weight still if we reflect that the Milky Way seen from afar represents only an imperceptible and inappreciable point in the immensity of the sidereal creations. Millions like it exist in space. It is a stellar nebula. If it appears to us richer and more immense than others, it is for this sole reason that it surrounds us, and develops itself in its extent under our very eyes; whilst the others, lost in unfathomable depths, are scarcely to be seen.
36. Now, if one remembers that the Earth, comparatively speaking, is nothing or almost nothing in the solar system, that the latter is nothing or nearly nothing in the Milky Way, this latter is nothing or nearly nothing in the universe of nebula, and this universe itself a very little thing in the midst of the vastness of infinitude, one will begin to comprehend what the terrestrial globe is.