Carl Sagan was famous for using the phrase “billions and billions of stars” when he referenced the vast immensity of space. Some decades ago, the word “billion” meant something different today. It was a bigger number; actually the biggest number within the cultural horizon. Today we toss the word “trillion” around as if it is no big deal. The truth is no one really understands the scope of either.
In Sagan’s day, scientists believed that the universe was filled with about 100 billion galaxies each containing 100 billion stars. This number is in doubt today, as it also seems too small, and we might be using the word “trillions” in the near future.
This same phrase “billions and billions” and even “trillions” can now be accurately applied to the planets orbiting all those innumerable stars. Currently, scientists have discovered 1700 planets outside of our solar system. A recent article, however, confirms that scientists are now aware that our own galaxy contains at least 100 billion planets. Most stars have planets orbiting them. If our own galaxy contains 100 billion planets, than the universe is really filled with “billions and billions” and even “trillions and trillions” of worlds. Big ones and small ones. Gas giants and rocky midgets. The universe has these in spades.
It was not that long ago when scientists were speaking of our own Earth as a singularity; a unique speck of blue. No one could prove other worlds existed. Now every time we look up and look at the stars we can also perceive that many of these stars are solar systems. How many of these innumerable planets have life? No one knows. Of course, the answer to that question also depends on how we define “life”?
Still, I have no doubt that one day we will look up into the sky and quip, “Billions and billions of lives, big and small.”