Sep 30 2009

Red Giants and Cab-Driving Superstars

orion_spinelli_c1One of the easiest constellations to find in the nighttime sky is Orion. The picture to the right shows a somewhat over-illuminated view compared to what you’ll actually see from a typical city with street lights ablaze, but it does accurately show the structure of the constellation. My 6-year-old and 4-year-old have even learned to spot the three stars that line up to form Orion’s belt — they’re the three bluish ones in the center of the picture. Just above and slightly to the left is another significant star, Betelgeuse (pronounced “Beetle Juice”). It’s the bright yellow one in the top left of the picture. If you don’t know what you’re seeing, Betelgeuse might fool you into thinking it’s just another star in the sky. Sure it’s one of the brightest, but it’s still just another star,  so what is so unusual about it? Well, it’s a matter of size. In astronomy vernacular, Betelgeuse is what’s known as a Red Giant. Sounds big, huh? Just how big are we talking about?

Bigger than Earth? Yes.

Bigger than the biggest planet in the Milky Way, Jupiter? Yep.

Bigger than the Sun?!?! Yes. In fact, the best estimates suggest that it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 950 to 1000 times bigger in diameter than our Sun, and yet it sits there, high above our heads, night after night, masquerading as just another fleck of light in the sky. But all of us are busy with our daily lives, carefully tending to the priorities on our “To Do” lists, oblivious that an object of such staggering proportions is within sight. Its vastness is humbling, and yet most of us are able to relegate it to background noise because it doesn’t call attention to itself.

All of which makes me wonder what else I might be missing in the world around me just because I’m not paying attention closely enough. I think we all know and believe that there are extraordinary things and extraordinary people all around us. However, we frequently make the mistake of assuming that we’ll somehow recognize them as such…that extraordinary things come with large neon signs calling attention to themselves. Rarely is that actually the case. In fact, I prefer to believe that extraordinary things often hide in ordinary settings, just like Betelgeuse does.

The video below is about Tom Chappell. You don’t know Tom, and if you met him, you might be quick to overlook him since he’s a pretty ordinary cab driver. But you’re about to see that Tom’s pretty extraordinary. So before you make the mistake of assuming he’s ONLY a cab driver, grab yourself a tissue and watch this video…


  1. Edward R. Harwell

    I appreciate your journey. My father died of PSC years ago. He had a liver transplant but unfortunately his body rejected it.

  2. Gail Prensky

    Wow! Nicely done Bill.

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