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.

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