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What’s depressing me today: galaxies colliding

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Last night I watched The Universe, a series on the History Channel. The episode was about the impending collision between our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and our nearest neighbor galaxy, Andromeda. You read that right — our galaxy is going to collide with another galaxy. Do you have any idea the kind of damage we’re talking about? Your homeowner’s insurance is not going to cover this. I don’t care what your deductible is. 

And it isn’t a controversial subject, with good arguments on both sides, like whether or not we landed on the moon. No, the galaxies are on a collision course and will, without a doubt, slam into each other with a force you haven’t seen since ever. NASA implies that there’s hope for Earth, claiming that the “space between stars is so vast that when galaxies collide, the stars in them usually do not collide.” But it isn’t like scientists have ever observed anything like this up close. And the scientists on the show described all sorts of ways that we could get crushed by stellar matter or irradiated or boiled or sucked into the super black hole at the center of each galaxy. One thing is for sure — our galaxy is going to be eaten by a bigger one. I don’t know what the Milky Way thinks about this, but it can’t be good for us.

So, yeah, it’s got me depressed. I mean, what’s the point of getting out of bed in the morning? It’s all going to be vaporized anyway when the galaxies collide. “Scott, take it easy,” you say, “the galaxies aren’t going to collide for another three billion years. You’ll be long dead, dead for about three billion years already. And it’s likely that humans will have long since been killed off, extinct from some super virus or planet-killer comet or nuclear armageddon or environmental disaster. Three billion years from now, there’ll be no one left on Earth to care about the galaxies colliding.”

It’s nice of you to say. I appreciate your trying to cheer me up. Still, I can’t help but think that humans might survive those viruses and nukes and still be around three billion years from now, with Andromeda getting ready to have its way with our dear, sweet Milky Way. Sure, you and I won’t be around to worry about it, but what about our children? Okay, their children? Maybe my math is off by a few years, but certainly someone’s children will have to deal with this. And do you want to be remembered as the generation that passed the buck on preventing the galaxy-collision to future generations? I don’t.

“Scott, don’t worry,” you say, “three billion years is a long time. Future generations will have really, really good technology. Everything will be in Hi-Def. They’ll just jump on star cruisers and get the hell out of the galaxy before the collision.” Maybe they will. But only if we start working on it right now. It’s true that three billion years is a long time, but transporting the human species out of the galaxy and locating a suitable replacement planet in a different galaxy ain’t like dusting crops, boy. And, as we all know, every year seems to go by faster and faster. Those last billion years will feel like only a hundred million. The time to act is now.

Sadly, I doubt we can turn to our government for action. After all, what did the Bush administration do about the impending collision of not one, but two galaxies? In eight years, precisely nothing. And has Obama even mentioned the path Andromeda is on and his plan to stop it? Not once. There is no plan. Every day the galaxies draw closer and no one in power seems to care at all. They won’t even return my phone calls. It’s enough to make me want to go to bed and wait for the inevitable.

Scott Stein is editor of When Falls the Coliseum and author of the novels Lost and Mean Martin Manning. His short comedic fiction, book reviews, and essays have been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Oxford University Press Humor Reader, The G.W. Review, Liberty, National Review, PopMatters.com, Art Times, and Reason. He is a professor of English at Drexel University. Scott tweets @sstein. His author site is scottsteinonline.com.

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11 Responses to “What’s depressing me today: galaxies colliding”

  1. Three billion years is really far away. Better to worry about whether or not we’ll have a colder-than-usual winter.

  2. “It’s true that three billion years is a long time, but transporting the human species out of the galaxy and locating a suitable replacement planet in a different galaxy ain’t like dusting crops, boy.”

    Uh… YEAH, three billion years is a long time. By then the humans will have colonized more than one galaxy, finding planets with suitable climates or creating artificial climates under glass domes. Don’t you ever read anything? Transporting will be accomplished by walking into a booth and dialing the coordinates of the colony you want to go to. In the year — past or future — when you want to find yourself there. It’s all already designed and ready to go. Like with any scientific invention, sooner or later, the scientists will just flip through a few sci-fi books, like through a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, pick out an idea in their size and budget, and implement the crap out of it.

    But I’m sure if the global warming keeps up with Al Gore’s enthusiastic projections, the galaxies might collide a year or two sooner than three billion, so you’re probably right. It’s time to panic. I think we should have a rally. Let’s think up some convincing, appropriately anxiety-inducing slogans.

  3. Oh, great. Like I need something else to worry about.

    But I bet

    “Milky Way + Andromeda = Crazy Yikes”

    shirts might do okay.

  4. “Maybe they will. But only if we start working on it right now.”

    How stupid would we look if in 2.999 billion years scientists announce that they could teleport the entire planet to safety, if only people had started working on the project back in 2008. But since we didn’t, scientists will only have enough know-how to save themselves. Buh-bye. [poof!]

  5. My parents always said I was bad at making decisions with money. . . I thought I would be making them proud when I gave up renting in Philly and bought a home for myself. I figured the cost of the mortgage wouldn’t be much more than renting. I had steady work, and it would be at least 5 billion years before the expanding sun forced me to relocate. But they just said, look in the long run. . .By 4 billion years the Atlantic will evaporate, and then whose going to want to live in Philadelphia? No more tourists coming to see the leaves turn. No more weekends down at the shore. Property values will go to hell. Now this? I won’t hear the end of it. They’ll be holding this over my head all through the holidays. “I told you to go with the 15 year mortgage, but did you listen?”

  6. I was thinking about this last night, along with the fact that after a few billion years of contracting, the entire universe will cease the exist. What would our plan be for this?

  7. My plan is to prepare for the galaxies collision and count on it to create a big enough new bang to make the universe expand back a little, which will extend its life span by a few more billion years. After that, it’s somebody else’s problem. I can’t take care of everything myself.

  8. Sorry, Olga, but galaxies have collided before — it isn’t that rare of an event. It won’t buy the universe any extra time. Kevin, scientists think the universe will contract after it finishes expanding, which would be bad for us. But other scientists think it might keep expanding forever, which would also be bad … something about entropy and cold like you won’t won’t believe. Either way, not good. Some believe that in either case, right before the contraction crushes us or the universe dies from over-extending itself, we might be able to use hyperspace to jump through a wormhole into another universe. A nice clean start. So there’s that. Probably it will require a bit more thought to make it happen. Someone should get started on it right away.

  9. Oh please. Wormholes and infinite number of other universes is for kids who are OD’d on Robert Heinlein.

    I’ll get started right away on believing that this time, when the galaxies collide, the outcome will be different. I’ll project that it will be. Maybe I’ll do a PowerPoint presentation. After all, the global warming of a few degrees was preceded by a global cooling of a few degrees, which was preceded by another global warming of a few degrees, etc., and yet we’re projecting that *this time*, the global warming will continue until it’s so warm we’ll be going to Wasilla instead of Key West to lounge by the pool with a margarita.

    This time it will be Andromeda and the Milky Way. They haven’t collided before; therefore, the variables will be different. For example, there’s a high probability that the galaxies that have collided before did not contain any yogurt, it being a human invention. That’s the wild card. Its live cultures will be the key factor in the continued expansion of the universe. You can conduct your own experiment that will prove it incontrovertibly. Take a cup of yogurt from your fridge and drop it on the kitchen floor from as high as you can (because galaxies are pretty high in the sky). See how it splatters all over the floor? This is your model of how yogurt — a human invention, thank you very much — will contribute to the expansion of the universe.

    If this doesn’t convince you, I suppose I’ll have to get on with making a documentary. Nobody can argue with a documentary.

  10. forgive me if i’m taking this too seriously. it’s accually pretty cheerful little piece you wrote. to the point, what you see negative is postive. do not fear death nor the order of the universe. your still very much absorbed in the things you feel touch, hear, see, taste and experience. they are gifts but only gifts that have allowed us to even as much as glimpse the smallest percent of what is.

  11. It’s 4 billion years from now. Also, the world won’t be harmed. The only thing that will be changed is the night sky. The Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy will only collide. The sun and Earth will be not harmed just the sky, as what I said before. There is nothing to worry about because when this is about to happen the people who will be facing wont even know who we are. Probably no one will be alive when that happens from other world destructions like a landslide, earth quake, tsunami, (that could hit the east coast of the United States of America)’, hurricanes, tornados, acid rain form factories, and many other stuff. The earth will not be colliding with anything, but what could happen is that our galaxy could do is drift to another galaxy and the sky color could change.

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