Life’s Mystery … Solved In A Grain of Sand

A Grain Of Sand

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

(Robert William Service)

Just as there is nothing ordinary about life, there certainly is nothing ordinary about sand.  In fact, as the images below reveal, there is more astonishing beauty going on in the world around us than meets our human sight.  I challenge you to see beyond the limitations of human sight.  I propose each grain of sand is a galaxy amid a galaxy of galaxies.  The more you question, the more you know that you don’t know.  That is what makes life exhilarating … for me.

“The total number of stars in the Universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth.” ~ Carl Sagan’s, Cosmos Episode 8, “Journeys in Space and Time.”

Sand grains magnified 110-250 times reveal each grain is unique.

grains of sand

Photo copyright Dr. Gary Greenberg.


The tip of a spiral shell has broken off and become a grain of sand. After being repeatedly tumbled by action of the surf this spiral sand grain has become opalescent in character. It is surrounded by bits of coral, a pink shell fragment, a foram (a type of protozoa) and volcanic material.

grains of sand

Photo copyright Dr. Gary Greenberg.

A handful of sand grains selected from a beach in Maui and arranged on a black background.

sand grains

Magnified 250 times. Every grain of sand in the world is unique when viewed through a microscope.

sand grains magnified

Image by Yanping Wang

Sand Magnified 4 X.

grains of sand

Image Copyright © 2008 Dr. Gary Greenberg.

The glacially deposited sands around Lake Winnibigoshish, Minnesota, contain abundant sediments from the igneous and metamorphic minerals of the Lake Superior basin. A sample includes pink garnets, green epidote, iron-rich red agates, black magnetite, and hematite.

grains of sand

Courtesy of


Puffy Stars — Star-Shaped Sand Grains from Okinawa. These tiny foram, a type of protozoa, secrete beautiful star-shaped, calcium carbonate shells, or tests.

grain of sand

Courtesy of


A small grain of copper impacted into a larger grain of copper. These grains precipitated downwind of a smoke-belching copper smelter. (Magnification 110x)

Many grains of sand are tiny crystals (shiny, flat sided solids). Sand from Zushi Beach, Japan, contains what looks like a sapphire crystal. The crystal is larger than the surrounding grains and has survived eroding because of its hardness and quality.

grain of sand

Courtesy of

Fragments of baby sea urchin shells. Biogenic sand, which forms from the remains of marine life, is the major ingredient of many tropical beaches. (Magnification 100x)

grains of sand

Courtesy of


A magnified view of the tropical beach sand from the Caribbean island of St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands). The grains include porous fragments of brightly-colored corals, minute foraminiferan shells, fragments of sea shells and shiny, star-shaped sponge spicules.

A Grain of Sand – Nature’s Secret Wonder
The Amazing Microphotography of Dr. Gary Greenberg

Every grain of sand is a jewel waiting to be discovered. That’s what Dr. Gary Greenberg found when he first turned his microscope on beach sand. Gemlike minerals, colorful coral fragments, and delicate microscopic shells reveal that sand comprises much more than tiny beige rocks.

Author and photographer Dr. Gary Greenberg is a visual artist who creatively combines art with science. He has a Ph.D. in biomedical research from University College London and holds 17 patents for high-definition 3-D light microscopes. Dr. Greenberg lives in Haiku, Hawaii.

Carl Sagan famously remarked “the total number of stars in the universe is greater than all the grains of sand on all the beaches on the planet Earth.” It is estimated that the total number of ‘all’ grains of sand on the whole planet could be approximately 2000 billion billion. Scientists still believe there are more stars in the Universe. (

And as to planets:

If a grain of sand represented an entire galaxy; so each grain of sand, or galaxy, contains 100’s of billions of stars, you would need to fill six rooms full of sand to contain all the galaxies in the known universe. If you drilled a tiny whole in one of the grains of sand, ‘our Milky Way universe,’ that would be the area that we have been capable of searching for planets so far. 534 planets have been discovered so far. (

Buy the

Buy the BookA Grain of Sand: Nature’s Secret Wonder by Dr Gary Greenberg

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