Some days you come across something that totally, bizarrely, sums up what you’ve been thinking about all week. Today was one of them. Cheers Charlie Brooker – we have obviously experienced some sort of transcendental mind meld. Let me know if you have one of those dreams with cats that have superpowers and I’ll know it’s true.
Anyway, the astronomers who made the discovery about Andromeda deserve our awe and respect, because their everyday job consists of dealing with concepts so intense and overwhelming that it’s a wonder their skulls don’t implode through sheer vertigo. Generally speaking, it’s best not to contemplate the full scope of the universe on a day-to-day basis because it makes a mockery of basic chores. It’s Tuesday night and the rubbish van comes first thing Wednesday morning, so you really ought to put the bin bags out, but hey – if our sun were the size of a grain of sand, the stars in our galaxy would fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and if our entire galaxy were a grain of sand, the galaxies in our universe would fill several Olympic-sized swimming pools. You and your bin bags. Pfff!
The human brain isn’t equipped to house thoughts of this humbling enormity. Whenever I read a science article that nonchalantly describes the big bang, or some similarly dizzying reference to the staggering size and age and unknowable magnitude of everything, I feel like a sprite in an outdated platform game desperately straining to comprehend the machine code that put me there, even though that isn’t my job: my job is to jump between two moving clouds and land feet-first on a mushroom without ever questioning why.
Perhaps astrophysics stories should come with a little warning. Just as graphically violent news reports tend to be preceded by a quick disclaimer advising squeamish viewers that the following footage contains shots of protesters hurling their own severed kneecaps at riot police – or whatever – maybe brain-mangling science reports likely to leave you nursing an unpleasant existential bruise for several hours should be flagged as equally hazardous. How can I flip channels and enjoy Midsomer Murders once I’ve been reminded of the crushing futility of everything? I can’t even get worked up about the murders in that kind of mood. Yeah, kill him. And her. And them. Sod it. It’s all just atoms in an unfathomable vortex.