How great thou art! What emotions surge when we praise God:
“O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy pow’r thruout the universe displayed.”
Whether we look through a telescope to regions beyond, or through a microscope at the building blocks of life, we are in awesome wonder of the Divine power on display.
“I see the stars!” One of the most brilliant views that eyes behold is the night’s starry sky. A star is a huge ball of glowing gas in the heavens, composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, containing a number of other trace elements as well.
Consider the term “stars,” as the term relates to five wondrous facts about the heavenly hosts:
A-rrangement in galaxies
R-ole for mankind
S-ize of heavens
In 150 B.C., the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus estimated that there were less than 3,000 stars. About three hundreds years thereafter, Ptolemy calculated a number that was only slightly larger (Jackson, 24). Amazingly, they were close — at lease to the number of stars that are visible to the human eye on a clear night, but seeing, of course, only “half” of the heavens (Page, p. 662).
We now know, however, through the advancement of modern astronomy, that the number of stars visible to man’s eye is but a microscopic fraction of the heavenly lights. Astronomers now estimate the number of stars to be about 10 to the 25th power (Morris, 156). Another source gives the estimate of stars as being 200 billion billion (Page, p. 660). While guesses abound, it is doubtful that we will ever know the exact number of stars, merely viewing the heavens from an earthly existence. Our limited observations, however, demonstrate that the number of stars is truly “astronomical.”
If one could count the stars to the number of 1025, it would take him at least 100 million billion years, counting at the rate of 20 stars per second (Morris, 156). Indeed, “the host of heaven cannot be numbered?” by man (Jer. 33:22; cf. Ps. 147:4).
Temperature is only one characteristic of stars, and it represents the great variety among these wonderful creations. There are actually five characteristics of stars: brightness, temperature, color, size, and mass. Some once believed that the brighter stars were closer, and the dimmest stars were farther. But astronomers determined that this assumption was not necessarily true. There are two kinds of “brightness” when it comes to stars. There is what we might call “actual brightness,” and there is “relative brightness.” Some stars appear brighter to us because they actually are brighter and larger, although they may be farther away. Some stars are only relatively brighter, being closer. One cannot assume that a brighter star is necessarily closer.
Stars vary in temperature. The hottest stars are estimated to have a surface temperature of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The coolest stars measure a “refreshing” 5,000 degrees on the surface (Page, 661). (Note: Astronomers normally refer to the surface temperature of stars by a metric unit known as Kelvin. The Kelvin scale starts at — 273.15 degrees Celsius, or — 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Stars also vary in color. The hottest stars are a bright, blue-white color. The coolest appear as dim, red stars.
The heavenly hosts show variation in size as well. For example, the sun’s radius (i.e., the distance from the center of the sun to its surface) is 432,500 miles. Some stars, called supergiants, have a radius 1,000 times the size of the sun. The smallest of stars (i.e., neutron stars) can have a radius of only 6 miles.
Stars differ in mass. Some are heavier, or denser, while others are lighter and less dense. Paul J. Green, astrophysicist for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, notes the following in his article “Star”: “Mass affects the rate at which a star of a given size produces energy and so affects its surface temperature. To make these relationships easier to understand, astronomers developed a graph called the Hertzsprung-Russell (H-R) diagram.”
Studies of the stars show a great variety in the heavens. There are many different kinds of stars, or as Paul expressed it, “one star differs from another star in glory.” (1 Cor. 15:41).
Arrangement in Galaxies
Through modern observatories, we can see and photograph star groups called galaxies. "Galaxy is a system of stars, dust, and gas held together by gravity (Roberts, p. 8). Galaxies come in different shapes and sizes, and we classify them as spiral galaxies or elliptical galaxies. These systems are also found in clusters. For instance, the Milky Way is one of twenty galaxies known as the Local Group. These clusters of galaxies appear to be part of larger systems — superclusters (Roberts, p. 8).
Even with the naked eye, we are able to see orderly groups that consistently appear in the night sky — night-to-night, season-to-season. God invited Job to observe the Cosmos (note: the Greek word “order” [kosmos] was the ancients’ name for the universe) when he asked the patriarch, “Can thou bind the cluster of the Pleiades, Or loose the bands of Orion?” “Knowest thou the ordinances of the heavens?” (Job 38:31,33).
Role for Mankind
From ancient times, the stars provided practical benefits. The picture of the night’s sky indicated the change of seasons. The order of the heavenly hosts enabled mariners to navigate while sailing on the open seas.
The sun is our closest star, being only 93 million miles away; it provides a number of life-sustaining functions. It gives light and heat. Its energy can be converted into electricity. Its rays facilitate photosynthesis — the sun makes plants grow, and thereby we are provided with much of our food. The sun supports life. (Note: The next nearest star, Proximus Centauri, is 24.696 trillion miles away, or 4.2 light years.)
The Lord God, on the fourth day of creation, said: “Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so” (Gen. 1:14-15).
Size of Heavens
It is interesting that God chose an analogy from the physical universe to demonstrate the cosmic difference between His thoughts and our thoughts. The fitting illustration is as follows: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9).
The vast size of the universe is exemplified by an attempt to map it. If, on this map, one inch equaled 93 million miles, the map would have to stretch 4 miles to include the next nearest star. The map would need to extend 25,000 miles to show the distance from earth to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy (Jackson, p. 27). “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1, ESV).
Consider the Lord’s invitation through the prophet Isaiah:
“To whom then will ye liken God? Or what likeness will ye compare unto him? The image, a workman hath cast it, and the goldsmith overlayeth it with gold, and casteth for it silver chains. He that is too impoverished for such an oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a skilful workman to set up a graven image, that shall not be moved. Have ye not known? Have yet not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sitteth above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in; that bringeth princes to nothing; that maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Yea, they have not been planted; yea, they have not been sown; yea, their stock hath not taken root in the earth: moreover he bloweth upon them, and they wither, and the whirlwind taketh them away as stubble. To whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal to him? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these, that bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and for that he is strong in power, not one is lacking” (Is. 40:18-26).
Surely in the heavens “night unto night showeth knowledge” (Ps. 19:2b). The stars proclaim, “The hand that made us is divine.” They do not communicate through language; they do not vibrate vocal cords to express themselves (Ps. 19:3). All is quiet on the heavenly front. But are you listening? Are you listening to the silent celestial chorus? For they forcefully proclaim, “O Lord my God...How great Thou art!” (cf. Rom. 1:20).
The photographs of these amazing creations are available on: http://hubblesite.org/.