DESERTS OF SPACE
45. An immense wilderness, without limits, extends beyond the agglomeration of stars, of which we have just spoken, and surrounds it. Solitudes succeed to solitudes, and immeasurable plains extend through the far reaching expanse. Masses of cosmic matter are found everywhere isolated in space like islands in a vast archipelago. If one can appreciate, in some measure, the enormous distance which separates the mass of stars, of which we form a part, from the collections nearest to them, it is necessary to know that these stellar islands are disseminated sparsely in the vast ocean of the heavens, and that the extent of space dividing them is immeasurably greater than their respective dimensions.
Now, we must remember that the stellar nebula measure, taken as a unity, a thousand times the distance between the nearest stars; that is to say, some hundred thousand trillions of leagues. The distance between them being much vaster could not be expressed in numbers comprehensible by your minds. The imagination alone, in its highest conceptions, is capable of attaining to this prodigious immensity. These mute solitudes, destitute of all appearance of life, can give one the idea, in some measure, of this relative infinity.
46. This celestial desert, however, which surrounds our sidereal universe, and which appears to extend like the distant confines of our astral world, is embraced by the infinite power of the Almighty, who, beyond these heavens of our heavens, has developed the screen of his unlimited creation.
47. Beyond these vast solitudes, indeed, world radiate in untold magnificence, as well as in regions accessible to human investigation. Beyond these wildernesses splendid oasis float in the limpid ether, and incessantly renew beautiful scenes of activity and life. There, in the far-away distance, are displayed aggregations of cosmic substance utterly beyond the range of the telescope through the transparent regions of our heavens. These nebula that you call diffuse, and which appear to you like clouds of white dust lost in the unknown depths of ethereal space, when revealed, develop new worlds, whose strange and varied conditions, when compared with those inherent in your globe, endow them with modes of life of which your imagination cannot conceive, nor your studies explain. There creative power shines resplendently in all its plenitude before him who comes from regions occupied by your system. Other laws are there in activity, whose forces rule the manifestations of life; and the novel routes we follow in these strange regions open up to us unknown perspectives. *
* Diffuse nebula is the name given in astronomy to a nebula whose clusters of stars, as of yet, are unidentifiable. At first they had been considered as an agglomeration of cosmic matter in the process of condensation to form worlds. Presently however this appearance is thought to be due to its distance, and that with powerful enough instruments they would all be definable.
Though imperfect, a familiar comparison can give us an idea of the definable nebulae: They are like groups of sparkles projected by fireworks, at the moment of explosion. To us, each of the sparkles would represent a star, and the set would be the nebula, or the group of stars drawn together in a point of space, subjected to a common law of attraction and of movement. Seen from a distance, these sparkles are barely distinguishable and its group has the appearance of a small cloud of smoke. This comparison is not exact, as it refers to a mass of condensed cosmic matter.
Our Milky Way is one of these nebulae; we count approximately 30 million stars or suns in it (see footnote n° 29). It occupies no less than some hundreds of trillion leagues of extension, even though it is not the largest. Let us suppose that only an average of 20 inhabited planets revolves around each sun; this would give us an approximate total of 600 million worlds, for our group alone.
If we could transport ourselves from our nebula to another, there we would feel like we were in the middle of our own Milky Way, though with skies full of stars in a way completely different than ours. Despite its colossal dimensions, from a distance this Milky Way would appear to us as a small lenticular speck, lost in infinity. Before reaching the nebula, we would feel like the traveler who leaves a city and travels through a vast uninhabited country, before arriving at another city. We would have traversed incommensurable spaces, devoid of stars and worlds, that which Galileo called “deserts of the space.” As we advanced, we would see behind us a fleeting view of our nebula. While ahead of us we would see that (galaxy) in whose direction we were heading to, becoming more and more clearer, similarly to the mass of sparkles from the fireworks. By transporting ourselves in thought to regions of the space located ahead of the archipelago of our nebula, we would see all around us millions of similar and diverse forms of archipelagos, each of them encompassing millions of suns and hundreds of millions of inhabited worlds.
All of that which can help us to associate ourselves with the vastness of the extension and of the structure of the Universe is useful to enhance our ideas, so restricted by ordinary beliefs. God grows before our eyes, as we better understand the greatness of these works, while recognizing our own inferior place. As seen, we are far from the belief implemented by the Mosaic Genesis, which makes our small imperceptible Earth God’s chief creation, and its inhabitants, the sole objects of his concern. We comprehend the vanity of those who believe that all in the universe was made for them, and of those who dare to discuss the existence of the Supreme Being. Some centuries from now it will be a motive of wonder that a religion made to glorify God, has demoted him to such miserly proportions; and has repelled and considered as being conceived by the spirit of evil the discoveries which could have no other result but that of augmenting our admiration for the divine omnipotence, upon initiating us to the grandiose mysteries of the creation. It will be a motive of even greater astonishment when it becomes known that such teachings were repelled, for they should have emancipated the spirit of mankind and oppose the preponderance of those who claimed to be God’s representatives on earth.