What the Hell is That? (Number 3 in a series, if you want to guess, don’t read below the image.)
OK, we’ve all seen this before, on the view screen of the Starship Enterprise:
Kirk: “What is it Mr Spock?”
Spock: “I don’t know Captain, it’s not showing up on our sensors. It appears to be some sort of void in space.”
Kirk: “It’s avoiding us?! Arm phasers, load photon torpedoes!”
Spock: “It doesn’t appear to be hostile Captain, is that necessary?”
Kirk: “You heard me Mr. Spock. Fire!”
Dr McCoy: “Jim, did you take your medications this morning?”
Kirk: “Fire! Fire! Fire!”
Ah, I loved that show. We all did, what wonderful memories. Alas, that particular episode didn’t end very well as I recall. Moving right along, so, is that a void in space? Well, at one time that’s exactly what astronomers thought, they thought it was just what it appears to be, a region of space where for whatever reason there are no stars. Not for long though, astronomers quickly realized that these voids were clouds of gas and dust obscuring the view of background stars and galaxies. (There are actually a few small areas like this that are indeed voids in space, but that’s fodder for another post.) And in their usual exciting lexicographic way, astronomers dubbed these “molecular clouds” or “dark globules.”
OK, so what are we looking at here? A cloud of gas called Barnard 68. It’s about 500 light years away and about half a light year across, it could swallow up hundreds of solar systems. Well, gas and dust. Inside the cloud, its about as dark and cold as it gets in this universe. There’s a lot of these puppies in the Milky Way, our galaxy. They are like 1% of the volume of the galaxy, but about half the mass of the gas in the galaxy. They come and go very quickly as galactic times go, in the millions of years. We think of the galaxy as static, but in the long term it’s a wildly swirling mess, and these clouds of gas are a big part of the picture. It’s not even really understood how they form at this point.
Speaking of points, is there one? Of course! These clouds are where stars are born. For as of yet some unknown reason, the gas collapses or condenses into new stars. Our sun and the Earth and the very atoms that make up our beings were once part of a cold dark cloud such as this some billions of years ago. Look at your hand, it was literally once molecules scattered across a cloud as imaged above. And were people in some long dead alien species looking at images of the cloud that formed our solar system and wondering what it would spawn? Barnard 80 is the future, the cloud you are looking at now will, billions of years from now, be stars and planets such as our own.
By then though, Earth will be an airless cinder orbiting a near dead star. Doug’s Darkworld will no longer be updating. Will any hint of humanity remain? I think so … and again fodder for anther blog. I could blog forever, or at least die trying.
(The above image is from APOD, a bigger version of the above image and various details including copyright info can be seen here: Barnard 80. I chose to write about this image because of the basic wonder of it all. And as part of a bigger writing project, I have decided that Genesis needs to be rewritten, the late Bronze Age shepherds who wrote the first version were sincerely trying, but they lacked the tools to see how grand God’s creation really is. Time for Genesis 2.0 )