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Atacama Mission: "Seeding the Desert"
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A Tale of Two Orvontons

Is Orvonton as small as the Milky Way galaxy? Or is it as large as thousands of galaxies?
by Dick Bain

Is this Orvonton?. . .

Or is this Orvonton?. . .

NO MATTER how many times I’ve read the cosmology and astronomy information in Papers 15 and 41, I have never been able to form a consistent picture of the size and structure of Orvonton, our superuniverse. I suspect that I’m not alone in this. Other Urantians have deduced from the same information that Orvonton may be as small as the Milky Way galaxy, or as large as thousands of galaxies.

After many years of consideration, I’ve decided that the book presents not one, but two or more different pictures of Orvonton. The following sections are my attempt to tease apart the different pictures. One concept the authors support is that our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy, is the core of Orvonton, probably the major portion of it. But there is other information in Papers 15 and 41 from which we can conclude that Orvonton is much larger than this. My comments follow each quote.

1. The Milky Way as The Major Part of Orvonton

15:3.1 Practically all of the starry realms visible to the naked eye on Urantia belong to the seventh section of the grand universe, the superuniverse of Orvonton.

This statement intimates that there may be few things we can see with the naked eye that do not belong to Orvonton.  According to sources found on the Internet, with the naked eye we can see galaxies M31 (Andromeda), M33, M81 and M83 outside of our Milky Way galaxy.  These galaxies are from 2.4 million to about 15 million light years from us. The above statement from the book may imply that these galaxies are not part of Orvonton.  If so, this would imply that Orvonton is less than 5 million light years in diameter, and that the Milky Way galaxy is the major part of Orvonton.

15:3.1 The vast Milky Way starry system represents the central nucleus of Orvonton, being largely beyond the borders of your local universe.

The term “central nucleus” implies here that Orvonton is more than the Milky Way Galaxy, but the authors don’t give us a clue here about how much bigger Orvonton is than our galaxy. One possibility is that Orvonton consists of the Milky Way Galaxy plus its satellite galaxies, such as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, hereafter referred to as the Milky Way galactic system.

15:3.1 This great aggregation of suns, dark islands of space, double stars, globular clusters, star clouds, spiral and other nebulae, together with myriads of individual planets, forms a watchlike, elongated-circular grouping of about one seventh of the inhabited evolutionary universes.

“Watch like elongated-circular” does not accurately describe our galaxy.  It has a central bulge surrounded by a thin disc, sort of like two fried eggs back-to-back.  However, if Andromeda is included, then the envelope of Orvonton could be elliptical and watch-like.  The term “nebulae” could refer to either planetary nebulae within the Milky Way galaxy or to the small external galaxies closely associated with the Milky Way galaxy such as the Magellanic Clouds.

15:3.2 From the astronomical position of Urantia, as you look through the cross section of near-by systems to the great Milky Way, you observe that the spheres of Orvonton are traveling in a vast elongated plane, the breadth being far greater than the thickness and the length far greater than the breadth.

The authors are saying that this is how our galaxy appears from our position inside of it. This sentence seems to equate the Milky Way galaxy with Orvonton. If the Small and Large Magellanic clouds were included, then some of the stars of Orvonton would not be traveling in the plane of the Milky Way since these small galaxies are below the plane of the Milky Way galaxy from our perspective. And if our closest neighbor galaxy, the M31, the Andromeda galaxy, were part of Orvonton, it would not be traveling in the plane of the Milky Way either.

15:3.3 Observation of the so-called Milky Way discloses the comparative increase in Orvonton stellar density when the heavens are viewed in one direction, while on either side the density diminishes; the number of stars and other spheres decreases away from the chief plane of our material superuniverse.

This is what we see as we look towards and then away from the luminous strip of light in the night sky known as the Milky Way, which is the densest part of our galaxy. One inference we can derive from this sentence is that the Milky Way galaxy is Orvonton.

15:4.8 The globular type of star clusters predominates near the outer margins of Orvonton.

This intimates that the Milky Way galaxy and possibly its satellites constitute Orvonton. Globular clusters form a spherical shell around our galaxy; most are found above and below the center bulge of our galaxy and other similar galaxies.  They are always associated with individual galaxies and are not found at the outer margins of clusters of galaxies.  This again reinforces the idea that the Milky Way galaxy is Orvonton.

32:2.11 From Jerusem, the headquarters of Satania, it is over two hundred thousand light-years to the physical center of the superuniverse of Orvonton, far, far away in the dense diameter of the Milky Way. Satania is on the periphery of the local universe, and Nebadon is now well out towards the edge of Orvonton. From the outermost system of inhabited worlds to the center of the superuniverse is a trifle less than two hundred and fifty thousand light-years.

The current estimate of the size of the Milky Way galaxy is about 100,000 light years in diameter but it is surrounded by a 200,000 light year diameter spherical shell of globular clusters and individual stars.  Even if we use the 200,000 light year figure for Orvonton, the center of Orvonton using the distance cited by the authors would be outside the opposite edge of our galaxy.  Also, if the radius of Orvonton is 250,000 light years as indicated, then Orvonton could not include any other major galaxies, even Andromeda, the closest large galaxy, which is over 2 million light years from us.  However, Orvonton as pictured could include the Magellanic Clouds and some of the other small satellite galaxies.   Thus the referenced section above appears to indicate that Orvonton is the Milky Way galactic system.

19:2.2 Although the unaided human eye can see only two or three nebulae outside the borders of the superuniverse of Orvonton, your telescopes literally reveal millions upon millions of these physical universes in process of formation.

This paragraph is one of the places where the authors use the terms “nebulae” and “physical universes” to refer to galaxies. It’s true that we can only see the Andromeda galaxy and perhaps two or three others under very dark skies without a telescope. The authors thus indicate that these 3 or 4 galaxies are not in Orvonton, indicating again that Orvonton consists mostly of the Milky Way galaxy. 

2. Orvonton as Much Larger Than The Milky Way Galaxy

19:2.2 Most of the starry realms visually exposed to the search of your present-day telescopes are in Orvonton, but with photographic technique the larger telescopes penetrate far beyond the borders of the grand universe into the domains of outer space, where untold universes are in process of organization. And there are yet other millions of universes beyond the range of your present instruments.

The telescopes of the 1930’s could see numerous galaxies.  If as the authors say, “Most of the starry realms visually exposed to the search of your present-day telescopes are in Orvonton,” this would indicate that Orvonton contains many galaxies. Notice that this seems to directly contradict the preceding part of this section.

19:2.3 At the same time these more powerful telescopes will disclose that many island universes formerly believed to be in outer space are really a part of the galactic system of Orvonton. The seven superuniverses are still growing; the periphery of each is gradually expanding; new nebulae are constantly being stabilized and organized; and some of the nebulae which Urantian astronomers regard as extragalactic are actually on the fringe of Orvonton and are traveling along with us.

"Island universes" was an early term for galaxies. The first sentence clearly states that Orvonton is a “galactic system” composed of many galaxies. If “nebulae” in the last sentence is replaced by “galaxies,” the concept of an Orvonton composed of many galaxies is strongly reinforced.

15:3.4 Of the ten major divisions of Orvonton, eight have been roughly identified by Urantian astronomers. The other two are difficult of separate recognition because you are obliged to view these phenomena from the inside. If you could look upon the superuniverse of Orvonton from a position far-distant in space, you would immediately recognize the ten major sectors of the seventh galaxy.

Astronomers have been able to map much of our galaxy even though obviously they have to do it from inside; there are not eight recognizable divisions of the Milky Way galaxy. Our galaxy does have four spiral arms, but these could hardly fill the bill as major sectors. What are recognizable as separate entities are galaxies, clusters of galaxies and even superclusters of as many as a thousand galaxies.  We could reasonably conclude that a major sector of Orvonton is either a galaxy, or a cluster of galaxies.  This would mean that Orvonton is immense compared to our galaxy.  However, notice the use of “galaxy” in the last sentence.  Perhaps the authors mistakenly used “galaxy” instead of superuniverse.

15:3.5 The rotational center of your minor sector is situated far away in the enormous and dense star cloud of Sagittarius, around which your local universe and its associated creations all move, and from opposite sides of the vast Sagittarius subgalactic system you may observe two great streams of star clouds emerging in stupendous stellar coils.

We are looking toward the center of our galaxy when we look toward the constellation Sagittarius. The “two great streams of star clouds emerging in stupendous stellar coils” apparently refer to two of the arms of our galaxy, which radiate from the center bulge of our galaxy. The preceding sentence implies to me that our Milky Way Galaxy is a minor sector, but the term ”subgalactic system” contradicts this. It’s difficult to understand why the authors would have two such contradictory ideas in one sentence.

15:4.7 Not all spiral nebulae are engaged in sun making. Some have retained control of many of their segregated stellar offspring, and their spiral appearance is occasioned by the fact that their suns pass out of the nebular arm in close formation but return by diverse routes, thus making it easy to observe them at one point but more difficult to see them when widely scattered on their different returning routes farther out and away from the arm of the nebula. There are not many sun-forming nebulae active in Orvonton at the present time, though Andromeda, which is outside the inhabited superuniverse, is very active. This far-distant nebula is visible to the naked eye, and when you view it, pause to consider that the light you behold left those distant suns almost one million years ago.

The first sentence is apparently referring to galaxies as “spiral nebulae.” This is reinforced by the reference to the Andromeda galaxy as a “sun-forming nebula.” The authors idea of stars passing in and out of the galactic arms does not agree with the most widely accepted scientific explanation. The most widely accepted theory of galactic arm formation is the concept that density waves move around the galaxy and cause large numbers of stars to be formed in their wake.  The stars thus formed outline the spiral arms of the galaxy. And there are a number of “sun forming nebulae” in the Milky Way galaxy, but they are variously shaped clouds of gas and dust, not “spiral nebulae.”  Regarding the distance to the Andromeda galaxy: Astronomers have determined by several reliable means that the distance to the Andromeda galaxy is over 2 million light years, so it takes light over two million years to reach us from this galaxy.

15:4.8 The Milky Way galaxy is composed of vast numbers of former spiral and other nebulae, and many still retain their original configuration. But as the result of internal catastrophes and external attraction, many have suffered such distortion and rearrangement as to cause these enormous aggregations to appear as gigantic luminous masses of blazing suns, like the Magellanic Cloud.

Astronomers have identified the remains of several smaller galaxies that are being ingested by our galaxy, so this statement agrees with our current understanding of how the Milky Way galaxy and others formed. However, astronomers have not identified any that have retained their “original configuration” within the Milky Way galactic system. And there are two Magellanic Clouds rather than one. Both have been distorted by the gravity of our galaxy. If there are many that have indeed maintained their original configuration, then they would have to be galaxies like M31, the Andromeda galaxy. This could imply that Orvonton is composed of many galaxies.

15:4.9 The vast star clouds of Orvonton should be regarded as individual aggregations of matter comparable to the separate nebulae observable in the space regions external to the Milky Way galaxy.

Since the authors use “nebulae” to indicate galaxies in Section 1, and since they say the “individual aggregations of matter” are like the nebulae (galaxies) that are external to our galaxy, the authors seem to be saying that Orvonton is composed of many galaxies.

12:1.1 The Seven Superuniverses are not primary physical organizations; nowhere do their boundaries divide a nebular family, neither do they cross a local universe, a prime creative unit. Each superuniverse is simply a geographic space clustering of approximately one seventh of the organized and partially inhabited post-Havona creation, and each is about equal in the number of local universes embraced and in the space encompassed.

If by “nebular family” the authors mean clusters of galaxies, then they may be saying that Orvonton is a cluster of galaxies. On the other hand, they may regard the Milky Way galaxy and its small close-by satellite galaxies as a “nebular family.”  It’s odd that the authors say that, “The Seven Superuniverses are not primary physical organizations,” since they tell us that the ten major sectors can be readily identified.  It seems to me that the group of ten major sectors constitute a recognizable “primary physical” organization.

12:6.10 The superuniverse of Orvonton is illuminated and warmed by more than ten trillion blazing suns. These suns are the stars of your observable astronomic system.

Astronomers currently estimate that our Milky Way galaxy contains up to 400 billion stars.  If a major sector contains about one trillion stars (one tenth of Orvonton,) then our galaxy is about 40% the size of a major sector. The Milky Way galaxy and its satellite galaxies plus the Andromeda galaxy and its satellite galaxies are about the size of a major sector.  This is smaller than the cluster of galaxies proposed by a few Urantians for Orvonton, but considerably larger than just our galaxy by itself.  In a presentation at the 2002 International Conference, Fred Beckner made the case for Orvonton consisting of our galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy and their satellite galaxies.

41:0.2 “While the administrative organization of the grand universe discloses a clear-cut division between the governments of the central, super-, and local universes, and while these divisions are astronomically paralleled in the space separation of Havona and the seven superuniverses, no such clear lines of physical demarcation set off the local creations. Even the major and minor sectors of Orvonton are (to us) clearly distinguishable, but it is not so easy to identify the physical boundaries of the local universes.”

 This intimates that both the minor and major sectors are visible as separate entities like galaxies and clusters of galaxies. This offers some support for the idea that the Milky Way galaxy is a minor sector. 

41:0.4 Such is the constitution of the local star cloud of Nebadon, which today swings in an increasingly settled orbit about the Sagittarius center of that minor sector of Orvonton to which our local creation belongs.

If the “Sagittarius center” is the center of our galaxy, then this may be another indicator that the Milky Way galaxy is a minor sector. But this could also mean that the center of the minor sector is in the direction of the Sagittarius constellation rather than at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. This may imply that The Milky Way galaxy is composed of minor sectors and could be itself a major sector.

41:3.10 Better methods of space measurement and improved telescopic technique will sometime more fully disclose the ten grand divisions of the superuniverse of Orvonton; you will at least recognize eight of these immense sectors as enormous and fairly symmetrical star clusters.

If we accept that star clusters are clusters of galaxies, then this lends added support to the idea of our galaxy as a minor sector. But the authors could also mean that a star cluster is a galaxy.

3. Use of The Term “Nebulae”

Before Edwin Hubble discovered stars in the Andromeda galaxy and others, there was a great debate on whether or not those fuzzy patches of light in the sky were galaxies full of stars or clouds of gas. The authors of the Urantia Papers seem to use nebulae to mean both clouds of gas and galaxies. Indeed, there are clouds of gas within our galaxy, and some of them are visible because they are illuminated by various forms of radiation. The sections and comments below explore the various ways the authors used the term “nebulae.”

12:4.17 But the greatest of all such distortions arises because the vast universes of outer space in the realms next to the domains of the seven superuniverses seem to be revolving in a direction opposite to that of the grand universe. That is, these myriads of nebulae and their accompanying suns and spheres are at the present time revolving clockwise about the central creation.

Nebulae and universes here seem to refer to galaxies.

15:4.4 Paradise force organizers are nebulae originators; they are able to initiate about their space presence the tremendous cyclones of force which, when once started, can never be stopped or limited until the all-pervading forces are mobilized for the eventual appearance of the ultimatonic units of universe matter. Thus are brought into being the spiral and other nebulae, the mother wheels of the direct-origin suns and their varied systems.

The term “spiral nebulae” indicates to me that the authors are referring to galaxies.

15:4.4 In outer space there may be seen ten different forms of nebulae, phases of primary universe evolution, and these vast energy wheels had the same origin as did those in the seven superuniverses.

In this sentence, nebulae obviously refers to galaxies and the many forms they take. Hubble identified ten types of galaxies (nebulae) in his 1936 book, Realm of the Nebulae. 

15:4.6 Nebulae are not directly related to any of the administrative units, such as minor sectors or local universes...

In this case, it’s difficult to say whether “nebulae” refers to subsystems within galaxies or to galaxies themselves. This sentence could be interpreted as saying that our nebula (galaxy) is not a minor sector.

41:8.3 In large suns--small circular nebulae--when hydrogen is exhausted and gravity contraction ensues, if such a body is not sufficiently opaque to retain the internal pressure of support for the outer gas regions, then a sudden collapse occurs.

This is the only case I can find in the book where nebulae refers to a sun.

 41:8.4 As a rule, the vast extrusion of matter continues to exist about the residual cooling sun as extensive clouds of nebular gases. And all this explains the origin of many types of irregular nebulae, such as the Crab nebula, which had its origin about nine hundred years ago, and which still exhibits the mother sphere as a lone star near the center of this irregular nebular mass.

The Crab nebula appears to have had its origin as the result of a supernova of its central star, which is now a neutron star. In this case “nebula” refers to a cloud of gas within our galaxy, rather than a galaxy.

57:3.1 The enormous nebula now began gradually to assume the spiral form and to become clearly visible to the astronomers of even distant universes. This is the natural history of most nebulae; before they begin to throw off suns and start upon the work of universe building, these secondary space nebulae are usually observed as spiral phenomena.

The term “nebula” in this paragraph apparently refers to those giant gas and dust clouds that supply the material to form galaxies. All the spiral galaxies our astronomers can see are visible because they have stars. It doesn’t seem possible to see clouds of gas and dust without something to illuminate them, such as material spewed from supernovas or ultraviolet light from giant blue stars. However, such clouds of gas can be “seen” in infrared light with special sensors on a telescope.

4. CONCLUSIONS

I think the preceding analysis demonstrates that there are at least two pictures of Orvonton contained in The Urantia Book. Which one is correct, and why are there two or even more? We can only speculate about this. Perhaps the Milky Way is a minor sector, but because of the constraints against revealing unearned information, the revelators could not present the exact picture of the seven superuniverses. But they could and did present some hints with the big Orvonton picture intermixed with the small Orvonton picture.

At the 2005 International Conference, reader John Causland presented a slide of a possible big picture universe. This slide showed a number of superclusters of galaxies that appear to be arranged around a feature called “the Great Attractor.”  The Great Attractor is a region of massive gravitational attraction that we can’t see because it lies on the other side of our galaxy. It seems to be controlling the large superclusters around it. Because of its position, we cannot see what it contains. Could it be the center of the Master Universe? Could the superclusters be superuniverses? John pointed out that the supercluster of which we’re a part (called the Local Supercluster, centered on the Virgo cluster of galaxies) consists of about 1000 galaxies.

Since there are 100 minor sectors in a major sector and ten major sectors in a superuniverse, there are 1000 minor sectors in a superuniverse. Could the 1000 galaxies be minor sectors? No one can say for sure, but I think it’s at least as good a theory as anyone else has put forward.


Dick Bain

DICK BAIN has been a student of the Urantia Book for 41 years. During that time he has contributed articles to many Urantia Book-related journals. He is on the Board of Directors of The Spiritual Fellowship and is their webmaster.(Most recent addition is a Flash presentation, "Jesus: The Unknown Years".)  A retired communications engineer, Dick lives in Lynchburg VA with his wife and daughter.

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