Saturday, 23 October 2021

Between destruction and construction

This time Hubble takes us to admire a violent and chaotic-looking mass of gas, the remnant of a supernova explosion. Called N 63A, the object constitutes the remains of a star of great mass, which has finished its life trajectory by pouring its gaseous layers into a region, moreover, turbulent on its own.

Supernova remnant N 63A. Credits: NASA/ESA/HEIC and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The supernova remnant is part of a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, an irregular galaxy about 160,000 light-years away from the Milky Way.

Namely, the role of supernova explosions with respect to star formation mechanisms is not clear to the astronomers. Supernova remnants have long been thought to trigger episodes of new formation when their expanding layers meet and compact the gas around them. The hypothesis is suggestive: like a cycle, a passing of the baton, from the death (of a star) to life (of many others). For now, however, N 63A looks young and exuberant, so much so that its violent tremors seem to be destroying the gas clouds they encounter, rather than forcing them to collapse to form new stars.

In this indecision between destruction and construction moves N 63A and perhaps it is not alone. It may be that its now excessive exuberance will change over time into a more disciplined activity, which will give rise to the construction ideas that astronomers expect.

And we, I tell myself, are faced with similar choices: we look for a way to affirm ourselves and our presence in a way of construction, that is, in something that can be useful, for people who live in the surrounding space. Spending oneself to give birth to something is perhaps the most beautiful and artistic act, but it is always our decision. To be taken, moment by moment.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

A wonderful Veil

This beautiful image of the Veil Nebula was acquired with the Hubble Space Telescope some time ago. Now it has been reprocessed with new techniques, which bring to light some very fine details in the delicate ionized gas strands of the nebula.

The Veil Nebula. Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Z. Levay

To obtain such a striking image, Hubble observations were taken using five different filters. Moreover, a clever method of post processing has highlighted the areas of doubly ionized oxygen (in blue), of ionized hydrogen, and of ionized nitrogen (here in red). The Veil Nebula is located about two thousand one hundred light years from Earth, relatively close in astronomical terms. Actually, this image shows just a detail. The nebula was formed by the supernova outbreak of a star about 20 times the size of the Sun, about ten thousand years ago. The remains of the exploded star created this scene of surprising beauty.

It comes to mind now, while much of the world celebrates the mysteries of death and rebirth contained in Easter (or at least reflects on them, on the wave of the tradition that however, it brings thought stimuli valid for everyone). Now I can't help but think of certain deads which bear much fruit in the cosmos. What seemed lost, from a different point of view, is a new gain. We need to broaden our vision. It is tiring, it is a real job. Yes, the star really die, but what is born of it is an unexpected flowering.

What can help us remember this? I can just suggest that beauty must have its part, beauty must enter into it, in some way. Like the beauty of this nebula. The enthusiasm of dedication is incomparable to the enthusiasm of beauty, Luigi Giussani said.

The beauty of the cosmos is for something. To be seen, we might venture. For an enthusiasm, ultimately. A crazy thought, perhaps? Who knows. But a happy thought, all things considered. Wish you a Happy Easter.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Ancient dreams, of a new future

This image is truly beautiful: it preserves intact that seed of trust that perhaps we have lost, and that can be usefully taken up again in this particular age we are crossing.

Credits: NASA’s Ames Research Center

The drawing speaks of a possible future (precisely, a hypothetical toroidal structure in space, used as a human colony), but the reference to a recent, very terrestrial past is very strong. The graphic style, in fact, speaks for itself, for those who have already experienced some solar orbits. It speaks of the seventies, and in fact it was developed at that time by the NASA Ames Research Center. At the time, some will recall, there was a lot of this (pleasantly fantastic) studies focused on space colonization. Confidence in change on Earth was softly projected into the depths of the cosmos.

All this comes to me as a very tender reminder of a past which, perhaps, can teach us something about the future. Perhaps after the difficult year we have just left, we can really hope for a new era, in a redemption of the most dreamy and desiring part of ourselves. To return to work, to the daily struggle, it takes a dream, it takes a hypothesis of certainty, a glimpsed shadow of fulfillment.

Pure desire is necessary and sufficient to reach the stars, desire which constitutes the stuff of dreams. Trying, believing: this still depends on us. And the whole Universe changes, we know it, we feel it. From here to the most distant quasars, what really softens the texture of spacetime is a child’s gaze. Is the ability to amaze us, for the things that happen, in heaven and on earth.

Have a good restart, my friends.

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Stars, stars everywhere

Again, it’s Hubble Space Telescope that comes in help to satisfy our desire of wonder, giving us the exquisite gift of this image from the globular cluster named Messier 107.

Globular cluster Messier 107. Credit: ESA/NASA

What can I say? It resembles a crowded stadium before a show, when we was still able to gather together to take part to an event (but times will return, I’m pretty sure, in which this will be possible again).

Messier 107 is one in about one hundred and fifty globular clusters present in our Milky Way. Each of them contains hundred of thousands of stars, sometimes even millions of them. They are very old: in fact, they are listed among the oldest objects in the whole Universe.

I remember a time (in the previous century) in which astronomy was facing a real crisis, exactly because of these clusters: from accurate evaluations, their stars shown an age greater that the estimated age of the universe. Rather embarrassing, I should say! Now we has reached a nice convergence between star ages and cosmological age of the universe, and the problem can be considered solved.

Anyway, as astronomer I can say we lived a very interesting time, since researches was boosted by this problematic and by the desire to find a solution. As a matter of fact, efforts were made till ages from stellar evolution was deeply revised (clusters lost several billion of years, in this process), but also the cosmological framework was updated (as a consequence the universe as a whole gained some billion years in respect to previous estimates). Finally, as you probably know, an age of around 13.8 billion years seems to fit well both for stars that for universe itself.

Nice lesson. Science always goes forward attempting to solve problems. Each problem treasure a possibility, to learn even more, to gain new views, to revise settled believes. When science does not face problems, it’s not always a good sign: we are missing the opportunity to learn something, probably.

Granted, in real life is not always easy, to view possibilities inside problems. But who knows, maybe science can teach us something, in this case…

Friday, 18 December 2020

Science is a game!

True science is a game, after all. This is something we easily forget. Playing is one of the most important activities of mankind, so that even little boys and girls, who are not used to loose time (such their parents), spend most of their time in this way, playing.

One of the most beautiful games is to discover that physical reality can be understood, in its marvelous complexity, by the human mind. To discover how the universe works, it’s probably one of the most rewarding activity, significantly contributing to build a feeling of significance in a life.

This amazing video has been interpreted by researchers of European Space Agency (ESA) in their spare time. It can help us to remember that, after all, scienze is a wonderful game.

Many can easily recognize the music, and also the guy who make a brief cameo at minute 5.41 (the two things are related, as you may discover).

You can make better science if you don’t take yourself too seriously. This is the true message of this nice video. A message to keep. Crucially important, for scientist and not scientist as well.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Podcasts (and my way home)

Asa a lot of other people, I have the problem of how to spend the time while I am in the car. Well, of course, the first thing to do -as everyone says - is to drive. With all the needed attention, obviously.

But, while you're driving, you may also use your ear to listen to something.

Yes, music is the first choice. It has been my first choice for many, many years. But sometimes you want to be exposed to something that is not exactly musical, in a strict sense. There is a lot of richness, out there.

You can embrace podcasting, for example.

Podcasts are wonderful when you're driving.

They are made often by speech, and are not so loud and invasive as - say - death metal music, so you can hear the sounds outside your car. Which can be a very good thing, if you're driving (after all, the world outside claim your attention).

One thing I appreciate of Spotify (among others) is that it includes a section devoted to podcast. Which is not automatic, for a streaming service (for what I know, Google Music features no podcasting yet).  Unfortunately, not all the podcast are present inside Spotify, so I must rely on a dedicated app if I want to really have access to all the richness out there. I have chosen Pocket Casts because, while it's not free, for a small amount of money it gives you an endless river of possibility and you have the real chance to configure an environment exactly as you like.

Oh, and another possibility is given by audiobooks, of course. Admittedly, I am a not so avid consumer of audiobook and, as occasional listener, I do prefer not to rely on a monthly subscription, as possible with Audible and similar services. So I take advantage of the audiobook section of Google Books, which it's perfect for anyone who likes audiobooks but do not want to add another regular channel of expense. 

Granted, there are plenty of possibility to explore to make the way home (or work) less boring, in case of heavy traffic. But, to be honest, my really preferred choice, it seems not available yet...

Credits: "Star Trek"

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Sunset, from the Observatory

In these days, it's a particular pleasure to come out from the Observatory (Rome Astronomical Observatory, which actually it's not in the city but in the outskirt) to admire the beautiful and very suggestive sunsets, wonderful moments that only nature can produce.

I've taken some pictures, using my cell phone, a couple of days ago. The pics feature the city in the evening, and part of the beautiful park that surrounds the buildings of the observatory. In the first you can see understand how majestic can be the city in this very peculiar moment of the day... 

Rome in the evening...

The second picture shows a gorgeous tree in the park, which captured my attention just before I entered in my car to return home...

A wonderful tree...

There is a true glory in each sunset, there is no feeling of loss but something, like a hidden promise, a promise to feel at home in the universe, to find a place that you truly can call home. 

With stars, a lot of glimmering stars, all around you.