Students with Calallen Middle School recently took a journey through the universe, guided by Dr. Jeff Goldstein, an astrophysicist and director for the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.
Goldstein was one of five scientists making presentations throughout the Coastal Bend Area as part of the "Journey Through the Universe" program, which endeavors to take entire communities to the frontiers of exploration. Goldstein is a researcher in planetary atmospheres, and his research has helped produce the first direct measurement of the global winds above the clouds on Venus and the first measurement of the global winds of Mars.
Goldstein presented students in the school's library with a direct example of how they can conceptualize the actual size of the universe.
Goldstein handed out 50 stars to every student in the library, stars contained within the Milky Way. Out of all those stars, he said he still had enough stars left over in the Milky Way Galaxy to give 50 stars to every student at Calallen Middle School. In fact, he said he had enough stars to give 50 to every person in the Corpus Christi area, then 50 to every Texan, and 50 stars to every American.
"In fact, I have enough stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, just enough stars, to give 50 to every human being on planet Earth," Goldstein said. "We now think there is enough galaxies in the universe to give 50 galaxies to every person on Earth."
To look at it another way, if each star were represented by a grain of sand, all the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy would fill a container one meter cubed, which is one meter tall, one meter wide and one meter deep, Goldstein said.
If that idea was expanded upon to include all the stars scientists now believe exist in the universe, it would create a beach one meter thick the size of the state of Colorado, Goldstein said.
And somewhere, among all those grains of sand, is one that represents our sun, and orbiting around that grain of sand is one planet with seven billion people. Welcome to my world, and I get paid for this. Do you think I love my job? You betcha'," Goldstein said.
He said the core motivation for the presentations in the schools was to emphasize the need for America to be competitive in the marketplace.
"We've got to get our next generation of scientists and engineers inspired in the this country, so that we can produce stuff that people want around the world," Goldstein said. "What's interesting is that the engineers who will be entering the workforce in the next ten years is right now in fifth grade. Which means science and technology education, even at the elementary level, is of strategic, national importance."
Goldstein said science and engineering are very emotional, very human endeavors that get a bum rap with regards to what students think science and engineering are about.
"Even elementary school kids are making decisions right now, in terms of what they take seriously in education, that will impact the rest of their lives," Goldstein said.