150 – Making Sense of (S[e=mc2]) …

It is challenging for the non-scientific, non-mathematical mind to comprehend the concept of Einstein’s E=mc2. In his own words, “The mass of a body is a measure of its energy content.” But it will be less challenging when instead of the mathematics, the ‘body’, the system, becomes the main focus of the equation.

The distances between the planets, the stars, and the galaxies in our Universe are vast. And so, to have a vague idea of what those distances are, let’s review some of the information we already have. Let us start with the picture below taken by the Cassini Spacecraft in 2013, which shows Earth from Saturn’s rings as a tiny spec of light (click on the image to enlarge it).





To simplify the distances between the Sun and the planets, astronomers use Astronomical Units. An Astronomical Unit, ‘au’ for short, is the average distance from Earth to the Sun at 150 million kilometers (93 million miles). And so, taking ‘au’s as measurement, the distance from Earth to Saturn is ten ‘au’s, and the distance from Earth to the Heliopause is 100 ‘au’s (see the chart below showing Voyager 1 crossing the Heliopause in 2014 after 36 years of travel), and the distance from Earth to the farthest edges of the Oort Cloud, the theoretical boundary of our Solar System, is ~100,000 ‘au’s. Keep in mind that our Sun is an average-sized star in the Milky Way galaxy, where some stars are a hundred times more massive and others just one-tenth of our Sun’s mass.





But because the astronomical distances beyond our Solar System are so much vaster, astronomers use light-years, which is the distance light travels in a year at 299,792 kilometers (186,000 miles) per second. And so, for instance, the distance from the Sun to the farthest edge of the Oort Cloud is 0.3 light-years, and the distance from our Sun to Alpha Centaury, our nearest star, is 4.3 light-years.

Now, if we can imagine putting together 1 – an estimated 200 to 400 billion stars, 2 – keep each star from its nearest neighbors at a distance proportionate to its mass, and 3 – embed all 200/400 billion stars in a sphere estimated to be ~180,000 light-years in diameter, we can then begin to fathom the magnitude of our galaxy, which is just one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies in our Universe.

Now, if we can imagine 1 – keeping each one of the 100 billion galaxies in our Universe separated from each other at a distance proportional to their mass, and 2 – embedding them all in an expanding bubble estimated to be 93 billion light-years in diameter, we can then begin to fathom not only the magnitude of our Universe but the expanses between its galaxies; the expanses we currently believe to be empty space and call “Dark Matter or Dark Energy.”

Now, if we consider 1 – the size of our Solar System, 2 – the fact that the Sun embodies 99.8% of the mass content of the entire system, while the planets, satellites, asteroids, comets, dust, etc., embody the remaining 0.2%, and 3 – that the rest of the Solar System, what we perceive as ‘empty’ space, is the energy content of the System – the pull and push, the centrifugal and centripetal forces, the electromagnetic fields – we can then begin to glimpse at the proportions in Einstein’s equation. The mass content of the Solar System (1.00 solar masses), times the speed of Light (299,792 km/186,000 ml) squared, is the measure of the energy content of the dynamic, self-regulating sphere with an estimated diameter of about 100,000 ‘au’s we call our Solar System (see picture below).







These figures, although subject to constant revisions as technology improves, are very difficult for the lay human mind to conceptualize. And yet they even get more difficult when we look at the other end of the spectrum, at the world of the atomic elements. Think, for instance, that there are an estimated 37.2 trillion cells in a human body, and that in an avarege human cell there are an estimated ~100 trillion atoms, and that each atom is a pocket of energy where to find the energy content we multiply its mass content by the speed of Light squared … think Hiroshima.

These are the proportions that e=mc2 establishes. Without regard to the size or configuration of a system, one content must be a measure of the other. This is the changing constant supporting the unfolding of manifold levels of complexity and order.

But then What or Who establishes these rules? What, Who perpetuates them while changing and being changed? What, Who operates the system in (S[e=mc2])?


[1] The distance of Saturn from Earth is currently 1,509 billion kilometers (0.93 billion miles) equivalent to 10.09 ‘au’s. Light takes 1 hour, 23 minutes and 55.8 seconds to travel from Saturn to Earth.

 Source of Pictures: Internet sites (earth-from-saturn-900Mmiles-cassini.jpg), (Voyager-1-Goes-Interstellar.jpg), (Kuiper-oort.jpg).

Revised November 2020   

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