Some answers to really big questions
By Amanda Jermyn

Where in the world are we, and how did we get here? These may seem like morning after kinds of questions, but they are in fact fundamental to all scientific inquiry. Let us start at the beginning, or at least the first beginning we know of, that of our universe. Once upon a time there was an infinitely tiny invisible point called a singularity that was so dense and hot, and under such enormous pressure from all the energy trapped inside it, that about 13.7 billion years ago a cataclysmic explosion occurred. This is what we have come to call The Big Bang. How and why this singularity came to be in the first place we donít know, but explode it did, and its consequences, we ourselves included, continue to this day. With The Big Bang, the universe expanded and cooled very rapidly, setting in motion the evolution of all the matter and energy that would eventually form the planets, stars and galaxies that comprise our universe today. Within a fraction of a second, subatomic particles such as protons, neutrons and electrons began to form. By the time the universe was about 380,000 years old it had cooled sufficiently so that these particles could combine to form atoms, mostly hydrogen. Over time, in places where the matter in the universe was slightly denser, these atoms began to clump together under the force of gravity, forming huge clouds of gas and dust. Gradually, parts of these clouds condensed further under gravity, forming massive hot balls of nuclear fire, the first stars. Again, under the influence of gravity, these stars gathered together to form galaxies, and the galaxies gathered into clusters.
Our galaxy, The Milky Way, was formed about 100 million years after The Big Bang, or about 13.6 billion years ago. It spins at a dazzling 500,000 miles per hour. About 4.6 billion years ago, on one of its outer spiral arms, gas and dust left over from burned out stars collapsed and ignited to form a new star, our Sun. The planets were formed from matter swirling around the Sun as successively larger particles collided and stuck together under the force of gravity. In this way, our Earth was formed. About 50 million years after the sun ignited, Earth and another planet, Theia collided, combining to form a new Earth. From the debris of this collision was formed our Moon. So, if you ever wondered about your celestial address, this is it: Planet Earth, orbiting the Sun which in turn is located on the Orion arm of The Milky Way, a galaxy that is part of The Local Group (of galaxies), one of many in the universe. Is ours the only universe out there? We do not know.
Join the Springfield STARS Club on Tuesday, March 23rd at 7:30pm at the Springfield Science Museum for a talk by Tom Whitney on The History, Development, Conventions and Concepts of Time. Tom is an attorney, president of the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomers Association and of the Astronomy Association for the Hartford, CT and Western Massachusetts area. Refreshments will be served, and the public is welcome free of charge.

Amanda Jermyn, of Longmeadow, has been a member of the Springfield Stars Club since 2000 and currently serves on the club's board of directors. For more information, visit the Springfield Stars Club Web site at or call 1(800)336-9054.