It’s something I had thought about for quite a while and was left in awe of when I pondered deep enough. We’re all one tiny part of a huge, ever-expanding universe – one we have only discovered a very tiny portion of. A seemingly never-ending Russian doll – each part fitting perfectly in its place within another.
Somewhere between us, and rest of outer space, there are an innumerable amount of galaxies and even more of what we call dark matter and dark energy, that make up the universe and all of its characteristics. According to research conducted with the Hubble Space Telescope, it has been estimated that there are at least 200 billion galaxies in the universe (so far).
The Milky Way
The number of stars in our Milky Way can be estimated to be anything from 100 billion on the lower end, to 400 billion on the higher end. Which brings me to one of the largest stars in the galaxy – VY Canis Majoris. Its radius is estimated to be around 2000 times that of the sun. The sun, when compared to Jupiter – the largest planet in our solar system, with a mean radius of 69,911 km – has a radius that is about 10 times as much.
Now in comparison to the rest of our solar system, Earth is considerably small. Yet it has contained billions of years worth of life form and continues to house everything we see, from Mount Everest to the Nanoarchaeum equitans – one of the smallest cellular organisms we know.
Every living thing on our planet is made of cells. The cell is the smallest unit of life, which is why there are organisms that can exist as just one single cell, while there are also multicellular organisms: animals and plants, that are made up of many different types of cells. Eukaryotic cells – those that contain a nucleus – can be measured at anything between 10 – 100 um. Although tiny in size, cells make us what we are. They make up our organs, our muscles our skin, our immune system. Within each cell there are intra-cellular structures; the nucleus containing all of our genetic information organised into sets of chromosomes – the instruction manuals for our bodies.
Along with the nucleus, there’s the Golgi body where proteins modified, sorted and packaged before they are secreted; the rough and smooth endoplasmic reticulum – the sites where proteins and synthesized and movement in and out of cells is regulated, respectively. And of course, the mitochondria – famously known as the powerhouse of the cell. This is where the energy currency, ATP, is produced as a result of respiration. The proteasome, found in the cytoplasm and nucleus of the cell is arguably the smallest intracellular structure, measuring about 150 A x 115 A in eukaryotes; in the research provided, proteasomes were measured in Angstroms (A), which is a hundred-millionth of a centimetre. They are crucial for regulating proteins in the cell by degrading damaged or misfolded proteins. Now considering it is impossible to see a single cell with the naked eye, try to imagine all the numerous structures that are packed inside it!
Atoms and Molecules
With all the molecules that make up what we are, let’s think about what those molecules are made of themselves. Every living thing that exists is a combination of 6 elements – carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. All of which is contained in all of our cells, and organelles; they are the building blocks of our muscles, our bones, and our blood. Not only are we made up of a handful of basic elements, but every physical thing that exists is too! From stars and clouds to the clothes you wear the and food you eat. They’re all made up of millions of atoms of a number of elements.
I find it incredibly humbling, that the universe is so vast and carries so many secrets, and we as residents of earth make up such a tiny portion of it. And yet, it is awe-inspiring, to think that we contain the very same elements that make up the stars. That there is so much more to us than what meets the eye. We have a number of systems in place inside and outside of us, constantly at work 24/7 without us giving any of them a second thought. These systems have allowed us to, not only produce life itself, but also create a way to live.