Cosmic Mysteries

June 3rd, 2011

Behold the Galactic Rose.

Yes, it’s real.  Yes, it’s been colorized, but scientifically, meaning that the colors chosen by the Hubble scientists represent genuine spectral hues of the gases that make up most of the formation

This is ARP 173, a prosaic name for an enormous event, the collision of two galaxies.  The galaxy forming the stem of the rose has pierced, apparently at considerable speed, the heart of  the large spiral galaxy that makes up the blossom.

There’s surprisingly little apparent damage to the structure of the blossom, although several long arms seem to have been scooped out.  These arms, made up of hundreds of millions of stars, many of which undoubtedly have planets circling them, were probably dragged along behind the invading galaxy and absorbed within it.

We can’t tell, since we see it edge-on, what violence was done to the stem.  From the look of the remnants of  the blossom, it probably gained some mass.

It’s tempting to conjecture what the night sky of the planets within these galaxies may have looked like, with two Milky Ways, perpendicular to each other.  This collision took millions and millions of years, so it’s possible that intelligent species evolved, flourished, and died out, taking their star-spangled creation myths with them into the silence, long before that dazzling sky dimmed with the separation of the galaxies.

Galactic collisions, or, as the scientists prefer, “interactions,” are common.  In fact our galaxy is due for a head-on with (relatively) nearby Andromeda, the only large structure in the universe that’s getting closer  to us rather than receding.  If you want to set your watches, the smash-up is due in a few billion years, and the best guess is that they’ll merge into a single ultra-massive galaxy, a dim cloud in the skies of planets in nearby clusters of stars.

Those bright blue spots out on the arms of the blossom are areas of intense star birth, so the great cycle continues, regardless of local traffic accidents.

The Big Surprise I prematurely teased you with is coming, but at its own speed.  I should be able to talk about it late this week.  Sorry to have cried “wolf.”

And, of course, in light of that photograph, “big” is a relative term.

12 Responses to “Cosmic Mysteries”

  1. Mike Schimmer Says:

    I am not a churchgoer, but stuff like that reminds me of how big the universe is, and that we humans don’t really count for much in the galactic equation. Look to the nighttime sky, and ponder. Call it God, call it a Higher Power, there is SOMETHING out there that is WAAAY bigger than all of us. My two cents.

  2. michael hallinan Says:

    I agree with every word even if I didnt understand any of them. You are after all my big brother.

  3. Peg Brantley Says:

    So. Me? I’m comforted with my belief that there’s something bigger than me running things. I figured out some time ago that although I’m significant to the people who love me, I ain’t “all that.”

    Waiting, waiting, waiting . . .

  4. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    We are so self important, and in the end, so tiny.
    That being said, I thought your surprise might launch, and it is a big thing, relatively speaking of course. No pun intended, well maybe;-)

  5. Suzanna Says:

    A Star Author talkin’ ’bout da stars, oh yeah!

  6. EverettK Says:

    A rose by any other name is just as big and beautiful…

  7. Laren Bright Says:

    Twinkle, twinkle little, um, galaxy?

  8. John Lindquist Says:

    Tim, you should write for “APOD” – the Astronomy Picture of the Day. It’s the first thing I check when I fire up the ol’ Mac every day.

    Imagine trying to stay on the ground on either end of “Haumea” as it spins away out in Pluto’s realm. Talk about perpetual motion!

  9. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Beautifully written, Tim and awe inspiring – reminds of the feeling I had after you handed that first joint.

  10. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, stargazers,

    First, THE BIG MYSTERY PROJECT is off my desk, gone to those who will take it to the next level. I’ve had six consecutive 15-hour days, and yesterday I did squat, and it felt great. Will share it with you this week, for sure.

    Mike (Schimmer): Nor am I a believer in anything that most people would equate with God, but there’s always the fact that nature defaults to beauty and that alone keeps me from closing the door and locking it. My one-time friend Timothy Ferris wrote an amazing book called GALAXIES in the 1970s, and I came upon a copy when I was in an especially impressionable state, and it changed the way I saw most things. I frequently revisited the book when I had managed to get especially impressionable. Galaxies are endlessly fascinating.

    Which is why Stephen’s line below made me laugh out loud.

    Mike (Hallinan), I don’t actually remember your agreeing with me much. By the way, do you remember Pat and the grape jelly hot dog, or did I make that up somehow?

    Peg, I think we all have to be satisfied with being the world, or part of the world, to someone. Many of us don’t get even that.

    Lil, I’ll launch the big boat the moment I can. I’m REALLY not being cute — the project hit some snags, and it would be counterproductive to talk about it too soon. Honest. And we may be tiny, but we figured out how to see the thing at the top of this post and how to determine what it was, and even how to reproduce and share the image. That’s not piffle.

    Zanna, a star in your eyes only, but I’m grateful for that. I mean, if you can fool people you know really well, maybe some day there’ll be some money in it. (That IS a joke.)

    Everett, think of the radioactive thorns, millions of miles long, this rose has sprouted. Probably kinds of radiation we haven’t even identified yet.

    Hey, Laren what would the “Alice in Wonderland” version of that be?

    John, thanks for turning me on to APOD — put it right at the top of my bookmarks. And Haumea blows (sorry, Stephen) my mind. How fast do you suppose the surface is turning?

  11. Vena Says:

    Honest to goodnesss, I really do learn something every time I read you, Tim. Thank you.

    I’ll add two more cents to Mike S’s post because he said it pretty darn good already.

  12. John Lindquist Says:

    Haumea spins almost as frantically as Gov. Blagojevitch – actually once every 3.9 hours which probably explains its football shape. This new family of objects beyond Neptune (in which Pluto is the 2nd largest next to Xena which is now Eris) has a lot of personality. Just Google “Kuiper Belt” for some interesting reading. It’s like looking beyond Bread at the fascinating world of The Pleasure Fair.

    There’s an especially interesting web page here. 🙂

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