And In The Beginning……….

Celtic & British Isles Graphics
     In the beginning there was neither matter nor energy, neither was
there  space nor  time,  force  and  form  were not.    Yet  there  was
Something.   Poised between Spirit and Void, without form or qualities,
pure potentiality,  the  first physical  manifestation  had  existence.
Scientists call it the  Primordial Singularity, occultists call  it the
Cosmic Egg.

It changed, and the first moment of time came to be.  It
expanded, and space was born.   Not the space we know, but  one of many
dimensions, and that space was filled with the first Force.  So intense
was that Force  that space  itself altered. Dimensions  folded back  on
themselves, while others expanded mightily.  The first Form came to be.
As the infant  universe expanded it changed subtly, and as naturally as
snowflakes  forming  in  the  air,  the  first  material  manifestation
precipitated out of nothingness.  Neither matter nor
energy as we know  them, but yet both.  The Element Fire was born.  The
universe continued to expand, and the one Force became two forces, then
three  and finally four.  Matter and energy became distinguishable, and
the Element  Earth was born from  Fire.  A hundred  thousand years went
by,  and the  universe  continued  to  expand  and  cool  until,  quite
suddenly, the fire died,  space became transparent to light,  and there
were great clouds of cool gas, moving freely.
The  Element Air  was born.   The clouds  began to  draw together, then
break apart into smaller clouds, and  smaller still, until a limit  was
reached,  and   a  hundred   thousand  clouds  collapsed   inward  upon
themselves, swirling and twisting,  flattening and smoothing, rippling,
and organizing themselves.  The Element Water was born.

One cloud, like many of its siblings, took on structure like a
great pinwheel, with  spiral arms stretching out  from its center.   It
was  Galaxias, our Milky Way.   Within its  turbulent swirling, smaller
eddies formed and contracted,  tighter and tighter.   At the center  of
one a spark grew bright then another and another.  The first stars were
lighted,  and shown  in a  universe grown  dark.   Many of  them burned
prodigally for  a time and  then exploded,  hurling the ashes  of their
burning outward, ashes such as oxygen and carbon and
nitrogen; star  stuff, life stuff.  Generations  of stars came and went
over the billions of years, and  out in one of the spiral arms  a cloud
of  gas and  dust began  to collapse like  so many  others before.   It
contracted, and  a  new star  lighted,  with a  disc  of dust  and  gas
circling it.  The disc became lumpy  as grains of dust and crystals  of
ice collided  and stuck together.   The lumps touched  and merged, ever
growing in the light of  the young star.  Finally, nine  bodies circled
the new star,  which would one day be  called Sol, or simply,  the Sun.
Third out from the  sun a rare event  had happened.  Two young  planets
had collided  and merged violently,  forming a  single planet.   In the
violence of  that  collision, part  of the  surfaces of  both had  been
ripped off and hurled  out to form a ring of  molten rock which quickly
drew together  to form a giant satellite.   The Earth and  the Moon had
been born in a passionate joining.

As the young Earth cooled, great volcanos belched forth gases from
its still  hot interior.   An atmosphere  of steam  and carbon  dioxide
formed and then  clouds appeared.  The first  rains began, pouring down
on the rocks and  washing down into  the low places.   The oceans  were
born.    Water  evaporated from  the  oceans  and fell  again  as rain,
dissolving minerals from the rocks and carrying them into the sea.  The
early ocean became richer  and richer in dissolved minerals  and gases.
Lightning in the young atmosphere formed new substances
which added to the complexity of  the mix.  The dissolved substances in
the  oceans became  more and  more  complex, until  one  day a  complex
molecule attracted simpler  compounds to  itself, and  then there  were
two, then four.  Life was born.

From its simple origins, Life grew in complexity, until one day a patch
of green appeared,  drawing energy  from the Sun,  and exuding  oxygen.
Within  a short time the atmosphere changed  radically.  The sky became
blue, the air  clear and rich in oxygen.  As the Earth had shaped Life,
so  Life began  to shape  the Earth.     Delicately balancing  and ever
re-balancing between the furnace heat of her sister Venus, and  the icy
cold of her brother Mars, Gaia, the Living Earth, had come to be.

The  first animals  appeared  and swam  in  the oceans.    Then
venturesome  ones  crawled onto  the  land.   The forms  taken  by life
changed.   Fish appeared, and  dragons walked  the land.   Tiny  furred
creatures  supplanted the  great  dragons, whose  descendants now  flew
through the skies, clothed in  feathers.  By and by some  of the furred
creatures came  down from the  trees and began  to walk about  on their
hind legs, and then they started picking things up.  Soon they were
using the things  they picked up.   Then they  started talking to  each
other.  After they had been talking for a while, they started thinking.
Some of them even started  thinking about where they had come  from and
where they were  going.  And  they began to  wonder how everything  had
come to be – and why.

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NASA Image of the Day for Feb. 6th

 Remnant of a Supernova

Remnant of a Supernova

Vital clues about the devastating ends to the lives of massive stars can be found by studying the aftermath of their explosions. In its more than twelve years of science operations, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has studied many of these supernova remnants sprinkled across the galaxy.

The latest example of this important investigation is Chandra’s new image of the supernova remnant known as G350.1-0.3. This stellar debris field is located some 14,700 light years from the Earth toward the center of the Milky Way.

Evidence from Chandra and from ESA’s XMM-Newton telescope suggest that a compact object within G350.1+0.3 may be the dense core of the star that exploded. The position of this likely neutron star, seen by the arrow pointing to “neutron star” in the inset image, is well away from the center of the X-ray emission. If the supernova explosion occurred near the center of the X-ray emission then the neutron star must have received a powerful kick in the supernova explosion.

Data suggest this supernova remnant, as it appears in the image, is 600 and 1,200 years old. If the estimated location of the explosion is correct, this means the neutron star has been moving at a speed of at least 3 million miles per hour since the explosion.

Another intriguing aspect of G350.1-0.3 is its unusual shape. Many supernova remnants are nearly circular, but G350.1-0.3 is strikingly asymmetrical as seen in the Chandra data in this image (gold). Infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope (light blue) also trace the morphology found by Chandra. Astronomers think that this bizarre shape is due to stellar debris field expanding into a nearby cloud of cold molecular gas.

The age of 600-1,200 years puts the explosion that created G350.1-0.3 in the same time frame as other famous supernovas that formed the Crab and SN 1006 supernova remnants. However, it is unlikely that anyone on Earth would have seen the explosion because of the obscuring gas and dust that lies along our line of sight to the remnant.

These results appeared in the April 10, 2011 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/I. Lovchinsky et al; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy Picture of the Day for Jan. 15th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 January 15
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Infrared Portrait of the Large Magellanic Cloud
Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL-Caltech / STScI 

Explanation: Cosmic dust clouds ripple across this infrared portrait of our Milky Way’s satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. In fact, the remarkable composite image from the Herschel Space Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope show that dust clouds fill this neighboring dwarf galaxy, much like dust along the plane of the Milky Way itself. The dust temperatures tend to trace star forming activity. Spitzer data in blue hues indicate warm dust heated by young stars. Herschel’s instruments contributed the image data shown in red and green, revealing dust emission from cooler and intermediate regions where star formation is just beginning or has stopped. Dominated by dust emission, the Large Magellanic Cloud’s infrared appearance is different from views in optical images. But this galaxy’s well-known Tarantula Nebula still stands out, easily seen here as the brightest region to the left of center. A mere 160,000 light-years distant, the Large Cloud of Magellan is about 30,000 light-years across.

Astronomy Picture of the Day for November 20th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2011 November 20
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

W5: Pillars of Star Formation
Image Credit & Copyright: Lori Allen, Xavier Koenig (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) et al., JPL-Caltech, NASA  


Explanation: How do stars form? A study of star forming region W5 by the sun-orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope provides clear clues by recording that massive stars near the center of empty cavities are older than stars near the edges. A likely reason for this is that the older stars in the center are actually triggering the formation of the younger edge stars. The triggered star formation occurs when hot outflowing gas compresses cooler gas into knots dense enough to gravitationally contract into stars. Spectacular pillars, left slowly evaporating from the hot outflowing gas, provide further visual clues. In the above scientifically-colored infrared image, red indicates heated dust, while white and green indicate particularly dense gas clouds. W5 is also known as IC 1848, and together with IC 1805 form a complex region of star formation popularly dubbed the Heart and Soul Nebulas. The above image highlights a part of W5 spanning about 2,000 light years that is rich in star forming pillars. W5 lies about 6,500 light years away toward the constellation of Cassiopeia.

NASA Image of the Day for October 11th

Making a Spectacle of Star Formation in Orion

Looking like a pair of eyeglasses only a rock star would wear, this nebula brings into focus a murky region of star formation. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope exposes the depths of this dusty nebula with its infrared vision, showing stellar infants that are lost behind dark clouds when viewed in visible light.

Best known as Messier 78, the two round greenish nebulae are actually cavities carved out of the surrounding dark dust clouds. The extended dust is mostly dark, even to Spitzer’s view, but the edges show up in mid-wavelength infrared light as glowing, red frames surrounding the bright interiors. Messier 78 is easily seen in small telescopes in the constellation of Orion, just to the northeast of Orion’s belt, but looks strikingly different, with dominant, dark swaths of dust. Spitzer’s infrared eyes penetrate this dust, revealing the glowing interior of the nebulae.

A string of baby stars that have yet to burn their way through their natal shells can be seen as red pinpoints on the outside of the nebula. Eventually these will blossom into their own glowing balls, turning this two-eyed eyeglass into a many-eyed monster of a nebula.

This is a three-color composite that shows infrared observations from two Spitzer instruments. Blue represents 3.6- and 4.5-micron light, and green shows light of 5.8 and 8 microns, both captured by Spitzer’s infrared array camera. Red is 24-micron light detected by Spitzer’s multiband imaging photometer.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA Image of the Day for Oct. 15th – Trigger-Happy Star Formation

Trigger-Happy Star Formation

This composite image, created using data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope, shows the molecular cloud Cepheus B, located in our galaxy about 2,400 light years from the Earth. A molecular cloud is a region containing cool interstellar gas and dust left over from the formation of the galaxy and mostly contains molecular hydrogen. The Spitzer data, in red, green and blue shows the molecular cloud (in the bottom part of the image) plus young stars in and around Cepheus B, and the Chandra data in violet shows the young stars in the field.

The Chandra observations allowed the astronomers to pick out young stars within and near Cepheus B, identified by their strong X-ray emission. The Spitzer data showed whether the young stars have a so-called “protoplanetary” disk around them. Such disks only exist in very young systems where planets are still forming, so their presence is an indication of the age of a star system.

These data provide an excellent opportunity to test a model for how stars form. The new study suggests that star formation in Cepheus B is mainly triggered by radiation from one bright, massive star (HD 217086) outside the molecular cloud. According to the particular model of triggered star formation that was tested — called the radiation- driven implosion (RDI) model — radiation from this massive star drives a compression wave into the cloud triggering star formation in the interior, while evaporating the cloud’s outer layers.

Different types of triggered star formation have been observed in other environments. For example, the formation of our solar system was thought to have been triggered by a supernova explosion, In the star-forming region W5, a “collect-and-collapse” mechanism is thought to apply, where shock fronts generated by massive stars sweep up material as they progress outwards. Eventually the accumulated gas becomes dense enough to collapse and form hundreds of stars. The RDI mechanism is also thought to be responsible for the formation of dozens of stars in W5. The main cause of star formation that does not involve triggering is where a cloud of gas cools, gravity gets the upper hand, and the cloud falls in on itself.

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/K. Getman et al.; IRL NASA/JPL-Caltech/CfA/J. Wang et al.

NASA Image of the Day for Oct. 4th – Ring Holds a Delicate Flower

Ring Holds a Delicate Flower

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope finds a delicate flower in the Ring Nebula, as shown in this image. The outer shell of this planetary nebula looks surprisingly similar to the delicate petals of a camellia blossom. (A planetary nebula is a shell of material ejected from a dying star.) Located about 2,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Lyra, the Ring Nebula is also known as Messier Object 57 and NGC 6720. It is one of the best examples of a planetary nebula and a favorite target of amateur astronomers.

The “ring” is a thick cylinder of glowing gas and dust around the doomed star. As the star begins to run out of fuel, its core becomes smaller and hotter, boiling off its outer layers. Spitzer’s infrared array camera detected this material expelled from the withering star. Previous images of the Ring Nebula taken by visible-light telescopes usually showed just the inner glowing loop of gas around the star. The outer regions are especially prominent in this new image because Spitzer sees the infrared light from hydrogen molecules. The molecules emit the infrared light that they have absorbed ultraviolet radiation from the star or have been heated by the wind from the star.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

Astronomy Picture of the Day for Sept. 17th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2011 September 17

Spitzer’s Orion
NASA, JPL-Caltech, T. Megeath (Univ. Toledo, Ohio) 

Explanation: Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This stunning false-color view spans about 40 light-years across the region, constructed using infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Compared to its visual wavelength appearance, the brightest portion of the nebula is likewise centered on Orion’s young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But the infrared image also detects the nebula’s many protostars, still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. In fact, red spots along the dark dusty filament to the left of the bright cluster include the protostar cataloged as HOPS 68, recently found to have crystals of the silicate mineral olivine within its protostellar envelope.