Way back in the day, a 13 year old girl could walk herself home in the middle of the night from a babysitting job three blocks from her house. Can they still do that? Do 13 year old girls still babysit?
Well, way back then I was 13 and walking myself home from a babysitting job three blocks from my house, when I had an epiphany.
I was looking at the stars — even in the suburbs you could see a whole lot more of them back then — and I was thinking about how far away they were and how long they’d been out there. How I wasn’t even seeing them as they looked that night; I was seeing them as they looked maybe thousands of years ago. I could never see them as they looked right then.
But that wasn’t my epiphany.
What if there were planets around some of those stars? (Today, we know there are, but way back then, we only imagined.) And what if even only one of those planets around one of those stars had intelligent life on it? Beings kind of like us. That star would be their sun, and however advanced their civilization was, if I could see them, I’d see them as they were thousands of years ago.
Anything could have happened during those thousands of years. Maybe they invented space travel. Maybe a few of them were on their way toward Sol, our sun, right now.
But that wasn’t my epiphany either.
Suppose their sun died. All the life on their planet would die. Hundreds of millions — maybe billions — of beings kind of like us would die. What would I see? Their sun, that little light so far away, would blink out. One moment it would be there, the next it wouldn’t. And it would have happened thousands of years ago.
Would it make any difference to the rest of the universe?
Even that wasn’t my epiphany.
Imagine they were the ones watching when the little light we call Sol blinked out, and the universe continued on. Who would care? Well, maybe the guys in their spaceship. But they’d already be thousands of years too late.
That was my epiphany.