I had a meeting today and I was running early, so I made a completely spontaneous stop at the Strasenburgh Planetarium. I really can’t tell you why I stopped, just that spur of the moment decision when you’re driving one way and then suddenly find yourself sitting in the parking lot of some place you hadn’t intended to go.
I didn’t know when the shows happened or what the shows even are nowadays. But it turns out that you can wander around the displays at the Planetarium for free, playing with the laser harp and the wind and sand display, and I could sit in the lobby and watch the phases pass on the giant moon. (Unfortunately, I only had my crummy little cell phone camera, so I apologize for the lackluster photos.)
Growing up, every school child in Rochester visits the Planetarium, and I remember being there years ago, sitting in the dark, domed theater with the stars displayed overhead in all of their glory. It was awe-inspiring to see the heavens appear before your eyes while you leaned back, enveloped in your giant leather chair with built in speakers in the headrest, so close to your classmates and yet so very far away.
The other part of the Planetarium that always sent chills up my spine was the space corridor, a darkened tunnel with dimly lit dioramas of planets and galaxies and other wonders. You entered on one side, beginning with a display of earth, your home, and ending at the final display, an eerily glowing scene with a satellite dish aimed into space, entitled We Are Not Alone.
For some reason, every display felt like a scene from a horror movie, spooky and unearthly. The corridor was dark and chilled, your way lit by small lights in the handrails and the faint glow from the next window, the sounds from the lobby area muffled with each step, until halfway through the tunnel, as you stood looking at the Milky Way, it felt as if time had stopped and you were the only person left in the world. Or in the universe.
As a child, by the time I’d reached the last display, I was both frightened and excited at the possibility that We Are Not Alone. It was the combination of dark and quiet, mixed with my own pondering of life outside of myself, my world, questions about God and the universe, about the stars and the planets.
Is there more than this? What’s beyond what the eye can see?
It’s been decades (and decades and decades) since I went there as a child, and I’m happy to say that while there are some now fun things to play with in the lobby and a new Challenger Space Station learning center, the Space Tunnel is exactly the same.
I mean, exactly the same.
There was the earth, my home planet. Proxima Centauri, a Quasar, the Milky Way. The displays still fairly low tech, but fascinating nonetheless. It was dark, it was eerie, it was quiet. I felt so alone and then there it was …
We Are Not Alone.
It was a familiar and comforting chill that I felt creep up the back of my neck, the realization that despite the passage of time, despite my knowledge of God and science and the universe, the diorama image was unchanged, and the question still really unanswered.
What’s beyond what we can see? Are we alone?
I heard an astrophysicist on the radio say once that scientists can only observe something like 30% of the known universe. That means there’s maybe 70% of what we know is there that we can’t see. And that doesn’t take into account what we don’t even know is there – because we don’t know what we don’t know. His point was that the universe is … well, infinite.
If the reality is that the universe is infinite, then one thing is clear: We are definitely not alone. Because when you’re dealing with infinity, the possibilities are literally endless.
But if you have faith in God, you probably already knew that.