According to NASA, Neptune is about four times wider than Earth. If Earth were the size of a nickel, Neptune would be about as big as a baseball. ©From the video “The Biggest Stars in the Universe,” Best of Science and “Science Magazine”

On this Christmas morning, I hope you are happy, healthy and spending time with family and friends.

During this holiday season, however, it’s the “happy” part of that wish that I found myself thinking about most, precipitated by the often-heard, classic holiday song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, which—some say—is a bit dark. (In my defense, 2018 has been a hard year for environmental protections!)


By itself, the sun accounts for about 99.86 percent of our solar system’s mass; the remainder consists of the planets, asteroids, comets, meteoroids and dust in orbit.

Originally, this 1943 tune, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, was sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 musical film Meet Me in St. Louis. Part of the lyrics go like this:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the yuletide gay.
Next year all our troubles will be miles away.

Someday soon we all will be together,
If the fates allow.
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

The sun has a diameter of about 865,000 miles—the equivalent of about 109 Earths. ©From the video “The Biggest Stars in the Universe,” Best of Science and “Science Magazine”

While the song held a special resonance for homesick American soldiers fighting in Europe when the movie came out, it also speaks to us about the tumultuous year of 2018 and our fractious times—and being bogged down in “troubles” and “muddling through somehow.” It also, however, has echoes of awareness about just how small those “troubles” are in the big scheme of things. And the video below helps make that point abundantly clear.

Astronauts, having been put in the unique position of being able to step back from the world and look down on our “pale blue dot” of a home, commonly report a kind of epiphany known as the “overview effect.” From space, they say, the sorts of troubles and preoccupations that seem so important while we’re on Earth evaporate in a wider context. Our everyday, terrestrial affairs appear pathetically trivial.

On this Christmas Day, I hope you’ll watch the short film below, produced by Best of Science and Science Magazine. It’s titled The Biggest Stars in the Universe, and it’s a heavenly reminder of all the wondrous things there are out there and how very small our day-to-day obsessions are. We need to take the long view, or, as astronauts would say, “the overview.”


The Earth’s thin, blue atmosphere is all that stands between life on Earth and the cold, dark void of space.

So, have yourself a merry little Christmas, and let your heart be light. Next year, I hope all our troubles—especially some of the environmental ones—will be out of sight.

Or, at least, let’s hang onto the dream—as the song says—that “we all will be together” on working to fix them.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you,