My drive to L.A. got pushed back thanks to the attention-devouring powers of Math.

I just read a post on ambition and goals, and toward the end was this quote:

“Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.” – W. Clement Stone

It’s not an unfamiliar sentiment or metaphorical piece of advice. Shoot for the moon. Go big. Aim high.

But the funny thing is, the moon is both closer to us on earth *and* smaller in size than most stars, so you could argue that by aiming for the moon, you’re actually aiming low. On top of which, because due to its proximity, the moon is such a large target, the difficulty in hitting the moon is significantly lower than hitting a star. This is the equivalent of choosing between aiming a theoretical tranquilizer dart gun at either a theoretical stationary elephant or a theoretical stationary beetle (note: I don’t care for game hunting, if you can’t tell). Compared to the beetle, that elephant’s going to be pretty hard to miss. Aiming for the elephant would be the cop-out, really.

Going back to my first point, though: the moon has a radius of 1738 km. The sun has a radius of 695,500 km, which means the moon is about 2.5×10^(-3), or .0025, or 25-thousandths the size of the sun (even simpler: you could fit about 25,000 moons into the sun). This number is also the magnitude of the moon’s solar radius (which is how stars are measured). Remember that: the moon’s solar radius is 0.0025.

This is a page that lists some of the largest stars in our galaxy, and a lot of them are visible from even the outskirts of a city (i.e., unideal stargazing environments). Beta Cygni, the tail-end star in the Northern Cross constellation, is the smallest star referenced in this chart, and it measures 16 solar radii. The largest, VY Canis Majoris, clocks in anywhere between 1800-2100 solar radii. 1800-2100 times larger than our sun. That’s HUGE!

As for distance? The moon is, on average, about 384,000 km away from the earth. A light-year is about 9.5×10^12 km, or just under 10 trillion km. This means the moon is about .04×10^(-7), or 0.000000004 light years away from the earth.

Beta Cygni is 380 light-years away, and VY Canis Majoris is about 5,000 light-years away. The nearest star to earth is Proxima Centauri, at 4.2 light-years away– so the closest star is still a billion times farther from us than the moon.

So when Bette Davis says, plaintively, "Don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars" in "Now, Voyager"– she was nearer right than most people would suppose. But I’d like to think that the ultimate form of ambition would be to take your bow and shoot that arrow into the dark, (possibly) infinite abyss that is the space marked by neither moon nor stars. That requires the utmost faith– and courage. To say, "I know what is out there, and it isn’t enough. I want more." To delve into the unknown, believing that there are bigger and greater things somewhere and that you will be the one to discover them– what a fearless heart that would require! Then again, what’s the worst that could happen? You could end up with a handful of stars.

[edit: I’m not actually sure, now, that I interpreted that first quote right. I initially thought it was implying that the star would be a consolation prize, but now it sort of seems like the star would be an unexpected way-cooler prize. Still. The encouragement to aim for the moon remains, and balls to that.]

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5 thoughts on “My drive to L.A. got pushed back thanks to the attention-devouring powers of Math.

  1. Your mathematical point is impressive and clearly time consuming:)
    Quo vadem
    how do you know when or what you’ve accomplished if you are aiming blindly in the dark?

  2. I think that’s just where faith comes in. I don’t think I meant it as “aiming blindly”– it isn’t blind, it’s just… uncertain? Undefined? The whole notion of not being satisfied with what we already see and know, and wanting more, wanting *better*, and not knowing exactly how to achieve that state of “above and beyond”, but setting out to get it nonetheless.
    If this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it’s because I’m rushing. I should have been on the road about four hours ago. On the upside, my kitchen’s clean!
    …I think I use my comments forum inappropriately. Oh well.

  3. just realized my math is all wrong in the comparisons because of the r^3 component in calculating volume. I was in a rush when I wrote that. I’d fix it now, but it’s 4 a.m. and I’m busy anyhow.

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