When we look up at the stars on a clear night, it is easy to believe that each of those bright points of light lies at an incredible distance from our planet-but only a constant of Nature gives us the assurance that this is really so.
Astronomers tell us that each of those stars is actually a huge emitter of radiant energy, like our Sun-though a great many of them are far bigger and brighter than it. So vast are the distances involved that astronomers had to invent a bigger "yard-stick" to measure them. This unit is the "light-year"-that is, the distance a particle of light travels in a year's time. Since light travels at the hard-to-imagine speed of 186,000 miles each second, the equivalent number of miles in a light-year is extremely large!
Consider that our nearest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri, is more than four light-years distant, while billions of light-years are believed to separate us from stellar objects as far out in space as we can detect them. So far away are some star clusters and galaxies that for hundreds of years they were thought to be merely gaseous clouds in space, smudges in the heavens. Not until the modern combination of very large telescopes and time-exposure photography was brought to bear upon the problem did we realize that some of these "clouds" are made up of millions upon millions of individual stars.
But the question remained: were they actually so remote, or were they naturally faint stars, which only seemed by their dimness to be very far away? There was no way of being sure of the answer to this question until astronomers began to study a class of stars known as "Cepheid variables." Variable stars wax and wane in brightness. One astronomer discovered that the longer the cycle of variation in brightness, the more light the star actually emits. This discovery was tested repeatedly and found to be true for every Cepheid variable star found in our "local" galaxy, the Milky Way.
Then one day another astronomer studied a photograph of the great Andromeda star-cloud, the thought occurred to him that there might be Cepheid variable stars in that galaxy also, and perhaps in all the galaxies in the universe. If so, we could ascertain how distant those galaxies are from our own. Prolonged observation revealed that there are indeed Cepheid-type stars in the Andromeda galaxy, and they have since been discovered in a great number of other galaxies.
Without exception, once their periods (cycles) were charted and translated into intrinsic brightness, they were found to be as bright as local Cepheids with the same periods. But since they appear to us to be extremely faint, the difference must be accounted for by the vast distances their light must travel to reach us. Thus it was that astronomers began to speak of millions and even billions of light-years across the deep reaches of space.
This leads us to wonder how such order and uniformity can exist all across such a huge universe. Why does matter apparently behave everywhere in exactly the same ways it behaves here on Earth? How is it that these Cepheid-type stars have exactly the same characteristics wherever they are found? Why do meteorites, which visit our planet from outer space, contain only familiar metallic and stony compounds which also occur on Earth?
It appears that all the matter in the universe had a common origin and was made to obey the same laws-which points to one Creator, just as the Bible states: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth…. And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven…. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also" (Gen. 1:1; 1:16).
God challenged man with this question: "Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?" (Job 38:33). Modern science is still groping for understanding of the laws that govern the heavens. They are searching out the works of God, though tragically, most choose to ignore the Ultimate Source of all things.
But how fortunate are we that God has left us a witness, both in His works and in His Word! His Word tells us that God not only created our Earth and the whole universe, but that He also yearns over the children of men with a Father's heart, earnestly desiring that we return to the closeness with Him which Adam and Eve once knew.
The Old Scot (Ted Kyle) served as managing editor for Pulpit Helps magazine (Disciple's predecessor publication) from 1993-2008. He was always fascinated by the natural world, and readily saw God's hand in every detail. Ted went to be with His Creator and Savior in April 2013.
Sources:Immensity, Clarence H. Benson, Van Kampen Press, Chicago, 1937. The Story of Variable Stars, Campbell and Jacchia, Blakiston Co., Philadelphia, 1941.