You just got your MATH 100 quiz back and you got a painful 30 per cent. You call your mom, tears streaming into the deplorable burger you just purchased from the dining hall, and tell her how it is the end of the world...maybe even the universe.
But, you and your academic turmoils are one of the most insignificant things in the universe. And that’s okay!
In the grand scheme of the universe, how important are we really?
Let’s start with the sun, which has provided warmth, comfort and embarrassing tan lines for 4.5 billion years. Our sun is located one astronomical unit (au) away from us, or for the astronomically uninclined, the equivalence of six trillion French bulldogs lined up tip to tail.
Although a rare commodity in Vancouver, we know that the sun is essential for life on Earth. However, our sun is a G2 star, which is just a fancy way of saying it is completely average. It isn’t extremely hot or bright and it couldn’t care less about your tan lines. Still, it is responsible for supporting nine million species. Being average has never looked better.
Yet, the sun is just one piece in our solar system. Orbiting the sun are eight planets, each with their own unique eccentricities. These planets are family to us Earthlings, as they are the closest things to us. But, at their nearest, Earth and the farthest planet Neptune are 31 au apart, which means a separation distance of 186 trillion French bulldogs.
Even though our solar system is huge, there’s more to be discovered: imagine all the other stars with planets like ours. From best estimates, our galaxy contains one-hundred billion stars, most of which are much more impressive than our sun. If only one per cent of these stars had hospitable planets with a similar worldwide number of students enrolled in MATH 100, that would mean three billion upset first years. Your problems are beginning to look a whole lot smaller.
Remember when Han Solo said his ship could do the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs? Imagine travelling 28.5 gigaparsecs! While a parsec is actually a unit of distance rather than time, travelling to the boundaries of the observable universe would require one septillion Han Solo’s. That’s so many Han Solo’s that you could replace every creature, planet and person in Star Wars with Han Solo and still have extras.
What if I told you that everything we’ve discussed thus far only makes up four per cent of the entire universe? The other 96 per cent is dominated by dark matter and energy, which is a substance more mysterious than bigfoot wearing an invisibility cloak in the Bermuda Triangle at night. All of human knowledge has only inched up to understanding four per cent of everything, so knowing 30 per cent of differential calculus isn’t too shabby.
By this point, you should see how insignificant your mistakes are. Perhaps one day you will find your significant place in the cosmos, but for now, don’t beat yourself up about that MATH 100 quiz. But maybe cut back on your attendance to Pit Night.
Steffani Grondin is a third year combined honours physics and astronomy student at UBC and is Co-President of the UBC Astronomy Club.