N4L 158: "The Smallest Lights in the Universe" by Sara Seager


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By Janet Perry, Janet Perry: blogger, and Nonfiction book lover. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.


In her memoir, The Smallest Lights in the Universe, author and astrophysicist Sara Seager shares her journey exploring both outer and inner space. An MIT professor standing on the cutting edge of discovering exoplanets, she is widowed at age 40 and plunged into deep grief. But with patience, time, and the help of a tight-knit widows’ group, Seager finds small lights to grasp while pulling herself out of overwhelming sorrow. When the piercing pain subsides, new connections serve as life-giving light.

As the story unfolds, we see Seager’s professional work providing a metaphor for her personal life: “At its essence, astrophysics is the study of light. We know that there are stars other than the sun because we can see them shining. But light doesn’t just illuminate. Light pollutes. Light blinds. Little lights—exoplanets—have forever been washed out by the bigger lights of their stars, the way those stars are washed out by our sun. To find another Earth, we’d have to find the smallest lights in the universe.”


  • In contrast to watching a baby grow and develop, watching someone die means taking steps backward every day.
  • Helping our loved ones die peacefully is our gift to them.
  • Timing and cause don’t really affect losing a loved one; grief is grief.
  • Healing is enhanced when the person left behind has few or no big regrets.
  • Finding like-minded people going through a similar experience of loss is very helpful.
  • Being a widow is like having no emotional reserves—no extra emotional strength—so when anything goes wrong, widows can come unglued.
  • Being there for a friend months and years after she loses a spouse might be even more important than helping her immediately after.
  • Those who heal best from grief give into the feelings and exercise patience.


  • “When you hit rock bottom through grief…or depression or anything, you have to hold on to those smallest lights…the smallest glimmer of hope to climb out.”
  • “My life became a study in contrast, the light and the dark, the hopeful and the hopeless. I spent my days at MIT with my students, trying to see. I spent my evenings at home with Mike, pretending to be blind.”
  • “When you lose someone, you don’t lose them all at once, and their dying doesn’t stop with their death. You lose them a thousand times in a thousand ways. You say a thousand goodbyes. You hold a thousand funerals.”
  • “The lesson I took from it? The universe might be infinite, but our appetites for exploring it are finite, and so are our resources. Time is the most precious resource of all.”

BUY The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir


BUY or watch The Theory of Everything, the story of another brilliant astrophysicist and futurist Stephen Hawking.

BUY or watch Hidden Figures, the story of smart African American mathematicians who worked at NASA.

178 episodes