The Milky Way  

“We shall show them Our signs in the universe and within themselves, until it becomes clear to them that this is the Truth.” (Quran 41:53)1

PART 1

The Quran is full of countless quotes on God’s signs. God points to the day and night, the sky and earth, the trees and all creatures for humans to contemplate His existence. Yet with all this self-evidence, I realized I never really looked. I became numb to creation. It was all so obviously placed before me that I took it for granted. It wasn’t until I became a “thinker” did I understand the complexity of these signs.

It began with contemplation on the many times a day a Muslim says “God is Greatest” (Allahu Akbar) or recites over 20 times in daily prayer “All praise is to Allah, Lord of the Worlds” (Quran 1:2)2. But really, how Great is God? What worlds is God speaking of? Could they be the planets that revolve around the Sun? Or are they worlds unknown? The daily words of praise seemed to become mere utterances without true understanding. My lack of knowledge left me wondering who is God? No doubt, like everyone else I was far from ever fully comprehending the universe. Like many others I was at a point in life where if someone said “universe” my mind’s incapability to grasp the entire image merely led me to picture the sun and its 9 revolving planets (or 8 planets now). And that was my universe. Beyond that it didn’t matter and I seemed not to care. It was my search for knowledge and spirituality when I truly discovered God’s Greatness. And even then it was limited to the extent my mind could comprehend and science could explain.
***
Discovering the enormity of the Universe began with my appreciation for a single National Geographic documentary.3 As scientists tried to explain the universe, nothing better explained it than by first describing our galaxy, the Milky Way. What is a galaxy? It is a “system of millions and billions of stars with gas and dust, held together by a gravitational attraction.”In simpler words, our Milky Way Galaxy has about 200 billion stars of which one is our sun. Our sun is one of the smallest stars (even though it can fit over 1 million planet Earths inside it) amongst others thousands of times larger. If our sun has 8 planets revolving around it, other stars have 400 planets revolving around it. We multiply the 200 billion stars by approximately 400 planets each, and our Milky Way galaxy has trillions of planets. I think the universe just got a little bigger in our minds…and to think we are the only planet with life? I slowly began to realize that “Lord of the Worlds” meant way more than the 8 planets revolving our sun! It meant trillions of worlds revolving around trillions of stars.

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Galaxy original image link
I understood the “million and billions of stars” in our galaxy definition but I still didn’t know what it meant by “held together by a gravitational pull?” Whereis this pull? How does it keep such gigantic stars together? The answers lie in the spiral shape of the Milky Way (seen in the image above). The Milky Way has fewer stars in the outer rings of the spiral, where our sun lies, and congested stars in the center. All stars, including our sun, is orbiting the center of our galaxy at about 10 million miles per hour! (We don’t feel such a speed in the mix of the earth’s daily rotation and yearly revolution). The stars closest to the center of the Milky Way confine approx 400 million times the mass of the sun in their orbit, allowing them to move at a super speed. The cause of such speed and density in orbit is the mysterious “gravitational pull”. The pull is from a massive object (because where there is mass there is gravity) living in the center of our galaxy: a Supermassive Black Hole. Yes, a colossal black hole lives right in the center of our Milky Way. Once a myth and now a scientific fact, it is one of the strangest yet fascinating objects in space. It has a gravitational field so extreme that no matter, radiation, or even light can escape from its grasp. A black hole is formed when a massive star runs out of fuel and collapses inward, unable to support itself against its own gravitational pull. Black holes are “cosmic cannibals” that feast on their own stars and grow as material falls into them. Therefore, our Milky Way’s supermassive black hole (billions of times the mass of our sun) has clouds of dust and gas spiral at astonishing speed towards it. This dust and gas is the debris of stars blown apart when sucked into the black hole! Overtime stars fall into the gravitational pull at the center of our Milky Way, making the black hole larger and larger.
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Black hole original link

Hence, I went from learning about gigantic stars, planets, galaxies to colossal black holes! But the most shockingly knowledge was yet to come. What keeps the resistant stars from falling and being crushed by the gravity of the black hole is the orbit of stars around the supermassive black hole,  just like the plants around the sun. For instance, gravity wants to pull planets into the sun while their orbital velocity wants to swing them out into space. Astrophysics reveal that planets farther than the sun orbit more slowly because the gravitational pull of the sun is less than the planets closer to the sun, and theoretically the same should be true for the Milky Way’s stars. The stars father from the black hole should orbit more slowly because the gravitational pull is lesser than the stars closer to the black hole. However, the stars closer to the black hole are spinning just as fast as the ones on the outer spiral of the Milky Way! But how? Why isn’t the orbit slower if there is lesser gravitational pull farther from the center? Astonishingly, when astronomers look for signs there appears to be nothing there. There appears to be no visible matter like a black hole with a mass and gravitational pull that would swing the inner and outer stars at equal speed. Nothing but darkness. The darkness of our universe. And so we realize that there is a lot more to the universe than meets the eye. Scientists are led to conclude that all the galaxies, stars, planets, dust, gas and everything we can see with our greatest telescopes with the ability to see light years away, is about half of 1% of what is actually out there. Half of 1%. The rest is invisible and it’s mostly a mysterious substance called DARK MATTER. We see normal matter because light shines on it and reflects off of it. But light passes right through Dark Matter. It doesn’t reflect. So we can’t see it. Yet, it has mass. This mass is causing gravitational pull that holds inner and outer stars in their orbit. Dark Matter is the key to a gravitational pull that keeps all stars whizzing at a stunning speed of about 10 million miles per hour.

These conclusions left me pensive. The universe and all its glory proven by science is close to zero before the reality of God’s creation (link: What is Time?). God’s order is invisible. It is invisible like the love we feel for family or thoughts deep in our subconscious. The fact is without dark matter galaxies couldn’t exist. Stars would keep going straight. Mass of stuff would fly all over space. We need the invisible dark halo as glue to holds galaxies together. It surrounds every star and every creature in the universe.  The halo is at least 10 times bigger and more than 10 times all the gas, dust, and stars we see.

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universe original link
 

Beyond the fact of our galaxy is the glorious fact of the universe. Our Milky Way is one of trillions of galaxies in the universe. Dark matter not only holds galaxies together, it binds them into a web-like structure reaching the very edge of the universe. We start with our 8 planets revolving around the sun; the sun along with billions of stars and trillions of planets revolving around one gigantic black hole; the Milky Way multiplied by trillions of galaxies, thousands of times larger, spread throughout a mysterious space like a web. That is our Universe (or about .5% of it). We have countless things to discover and the unseen to ponder. We must contemplate on greatness to realize true greatness is what the mind truly cannot comprehend. It is simply dumbfounded every time it tries. Everything has a purpose but like Dark Matter, we don’t need to see the purpose. It is as if God does not need a reason. Indeed, God is the Greatest.


1: Al-Quran, Surah Fuşşilat 41 verse 53
2: Al-Quran, Surah Fatiha 1 verse 2
3: National Geographic: Inside the Milky Way (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttz4Sr0tZFg)

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