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.