Saturday, August 22, 2009

Twinkle twinkle little star...

The Centaurus Galaxy

I have a confession: I love stars. And galaxies. And nebulae. If I were capable of staying up past 10pm and lived somewhere less bombarded by ground light, I would probably spend a lot of time peering through a telescope at the night sky.

But even if all that were possible, I could not begin to see things like this:

The Crab Nebula

The Eagle Nebula

These images are available from The European Southern Observatory where you can see and download images like these and more. My father often forwards emails to me that have astronomical news from this site.

When I was growing up, pre the internet, my parents purchases a set of Time/Life books that included topics like The Living Seas, Deserts, Jungles, and one on Space. I could sit for hours looking at the images and reading about the formation of galaxies, the nebula where stars are born or the ones left behind by the explosion of a super nova. It is really no surprise that I also harbor a deep and abiding love of all reference books. And SURPRISE my mother worked as a librarian and a book seller at various points in her life.

I don't remember exactly why this was being discussed, but the other weekend when we had a backyard full of kids, Fletcher who is 4 going on 40 was talking to his dad about stars, and they got onto the topic of how far away stars are. I asked him how old he was. He told me 4. I asked him if he knew how long it took for him to become 4. And he said yes, and I believe him because he is SUPAH SMAHT as we say here in Boston. Then I told him that most star light that we see was produced thousands of years ago. That we may even be seeing light from stars that don't even exist any more. It takes so long for the light to reach us that sometimes the stars have died before their light even gets to us.

That BLEW HIS MIND. It blows my mind when I think too hard about it. I will never be a physicist, or any kind of scientist because I just cannot logically wrap my brain around certain concepts. Like Schrodinger's Cat. Don't get me started on THAT brain teaser. Is it alive or dead? By opening the box to look you affect the outcome and thus you can NEVER REALLY KNOW. Why are we talking about it then??? Okay, it isn't always the concept I don't get, it is the point of the discussion I don't always get. If I can't know something, why am I thinking about it.

Anywho, thanks to the lovely people at the ESO and other sites like them, I don't have to become an astronomer or even stay up late at night to enjoy the mysteries of the universe. I only have to go as far as my couch and have a reliable internet connection.


Dproudmama said...

Your father sends out these emails which are almost scientific spamming from him. He always hopes it will be of interest to someone besides him. TaDa!

Chip said...

I have some of those books still.

Looking into the sky is looking at the way the universe once was... but only the individual spots. The arrangement of the whole sky never was that way. It only appears this way from our point in space at this moment in time... You're seeing something that never existed the way it seems to be... oooooo, I just blew my mind, man.

Chip said...

Oh and the nearest star outside our solar system is 4 years away at the speed of light. So the light from Alpha Centauri that is arriving today is the same age as Fletcher.