Monicks: Unleashed

Thinking Critically

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We are insignificant…and that is awesome!

The picture that science presents to us is, in some sense, uncomfortable because what we’ve learned is that we are more insignificant than we ever could have imagined. You could get rid of us and all the galaxies and everything we see in the universe and it will be largely the same. So we’re insignificant on a scale that Copernicus never would have imagined. And in addition, it turns out the future is miserable. So the two main lessons that I like to say I like to give is first we’re insignificant and second the future is miserable. Now that – you might think that should depress you, but I would argue that, in fact, it should embolden you and provide you a different kind of consolation.

Because if the universe doesn’t care about us and if we’re an accident in a remote corner of the universe, in some sense it makes us more precious. The meaning in our lives is provided by us; we provide our meaning. And we are here by accidents of evolution and the formation of planets and we should enjoy our brief moment in the sun. We should make the most of our brief moment in the sun because this is all we have.

And even if we’re so rare that we’re the only life forms in the universe, which I doubt, that makes us, in some sense, while we’re more insignificant, we’re more special. We are endowed with a consciousness that can ask questions about the beginning of the universe and learn about the universe on its largest scales and experience everything that it means to be human. Music, art, literature, and science. So for me it should be spiritually uplifting that we’re not created with a purpose by someone who takes care of us, like a mannequin or with strings determining everything. We determine our future. And that makes our future more precious.

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Celestial Fireworks – Astronomy Picture of the Day

Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Click to Enlarge image

Resembling the puffs of smoke and sparks from a summer fireworksdisplay in this image from NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, these delicate filaments are actually sheets of debris from a stellar explosion in a neighboring galaxy. Hubble’s target was a supernova remnant within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a nearby, small companion galaxy to the Milky Way visible from the southern hemisphere.

Denoted N 49, or DEM L 190, this remnant is from a massive star that died in a supernova blast whose light would have reached Earth thousands of years ago. This filamentary material will eventually be recycled into building new generations of stars in the LMC. Our own Sun and planets are constructed from similar debris of supernovae that exploded in the Milky Way billions of years ago.

Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
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Astronomy Picture of The Day – Galaxy NGC 4214

Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration. Acknowledgment: R. O’Connell (University of Virginia) and the WFC3 Scientific Oversight Committee

Hubble’s newest camera has taken an image of galaxy NGC 4214. This galaxy glows brightly with young stars and gas clouds, and is an ideal laboratory to research star formation and evolution.

Size isn’t everything… in astronomy, at least. Dwarf galaxy NGC 4214 may be small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in content. It is packed with everything an astronomer could ask for, from hot, young star-forming regions to old clusters with red supergiants.

The intricate patterns of glowing ionised hydrogen gas, cavities blown clear of gas by stellar wind, and bright stellar clusters of NGC 4214 can be seen in this optical and near-infrared image, taken using the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) instrument on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

A huge heart-shaped cavity — possibly the galaxy’s most eye-catching feature — can be seen at the centre of the image. Inside this hole lies a large cluster of massive, young stars ranging in temperature from 10 000 to 50 000 degrees Celsius. Their strong stellar winds are responsible for the creation of this hollow area. The resulting lack of gas prevents any further star formation from occurring in this region.

Located around 10 million light-years away in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs), the galaxy’s relative close proximity to us, combined with the wide variety of evolutionary stages among the stars, makes it an ideal laboratory to research what triggers star formation and evolution. By chance, there is relatively little interstellar dust between us and NGC 4214, making our measurements of it more accurate.

NGC 4214 contains a large amount of gas, some of which can be seen glowing red in the image, providing abundant material for star formation. The area with the most hydrogen gas, and consequently, the youngest clusters of stars (around two million years old), lies in the upper part of this Hubble image. Like most of the features in the image, this area is visible due to ionisation of the surrounding gas by the ultraviolet light of a young cluster of stars within.

Observations of this dwarf galaxy have also revealed clusters of much older red supergiant stars that we see at a late stage in their evolution. Additional older stars can be seen dotted all across the galaxy. While these are dominant in infrared emission they can only be seen shining faintly in this visible-light image. The variety of stars at different stages in their evolution, indicate that the recent and ongoing starburst periods are by no means the first, and the galaxy’s numerous ionised hydrogen regions suggest they will not be the last.

via spacetelescope.org

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