That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we this way and not some other? What does it mean to be human? Are we capable, if need be, of fundamental change, or do the dead hands of forgotten ancestors impel us in some direction, indiscriminately for good or ill, and beyond our control? Can we alter our character? Can we improve our societies? Can we leave our children a world better than the one that was left to us? Can we free them from the demons that torment us and haunt our civilization? In the long run, are we wise enough to know what changes to make? Can we be trusted with our own future?
My days I devote to reading and experiments in chemistry, and I spend many of the clear nights in the study of astronomy. There is, though I do not know how there is or why there is, a sense of infinite peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven. There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men, that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope.
His laws changed all of physics and astronomy. His laws made it possible to calculate the mass of the sun and planets. The way it's done is immensely beautiful. If you know the orbital period of any planet, say, Jupiter or the Earth and you know its distance to the Sun; you can calculate the mass of the Sun. Doesn't this sound like magic?We can carry this one step further - if you know the orbital period of one of Jupiter's bright moons, discovered by Galileo in 1609, and you know the distance between Jupiter and that moon, you can calculate the mass of Jupiter. Therefore, if you know the orbital period of the moon around the Earth (it's 27.32 days), and you know the mean distance between the Earth and the moon (it's about 200,039 miles), then you can calculate to a high degree of accuracy the mass of the Earth. But Newton's laws reach far beyond our solar system. They dictate and explain the motion of stars, binary stars, star clusters, galaxies and even clusters of galaxies. And Newton's laws deserve credit for the 20th century discovery of what we call dark matter. His laws are beautiful. Breathtakingly simple and incredibly powerful at the same time. They explain so much and the range of phenomena they clarify is mind boggling. By bringing together the physics of motion, of interaction between objects and of planetary movements, Newton brought a new kind of order to astronomical measurements, showing how, what had been a jumble of confused observations made through the centuries were all interconnected.
The knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on earth - the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars- the high mass ones among them- went unstable in their later years- they collapsed and then exploded- scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy- guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas clouds that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems- stars with orbiting planets. And those planets now have the ingredients for life itself. So that when I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up- many people feel small, cause their small and the universe is big. But I feel big because my atoms came from those stars.