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Hubble Probes the Archeology of Our Milky Way's Ancient Hub


Is there such a thing

I have now thought long enough (from about age 13) about the cosmos that a whole unbelieveable series of events pops into my head whenever I try to think about the earth. Where did it come from? What has made it so suited for human life? How rare is it? Then, having become a landscape photographer, I find it incredably beautiful (you can follow me in my photo wanderings at My Gallery and get a sense of what I have experienced. But now the news carries stories of tearing it down as if it were an old house.

For decades we have scarred the earth with strip mining, deforestation and now fracking. Is there nothing we will not do for money? The answer is no. The planet is under grave threat from too much carbon dioxide and yet oil barons promise to pump the last gallon of their reserves.

Then I think back to the beginning and wonder how many people are aware that we have uncovered a beginning. I wonder this especially about the billions of people who do not have a chance to study science or about the youths of Iraq and throughout the middle east and for that matter all parts of the world too poor to provide real education.

God’s word has been the standard explanation and I do not deny god, but we have learned such utterly amazing collosal things about the universe that the writers of scriptures of all religions never have heard about. Or if they have heard would not believe.

No one knows why it happened but 10.78 billion years ago there was space that was in a empty but for quantum fluctations bursting in and out of existence. At one instant space morphed into space and time.

The instant when space and time came into existence is called the Big Bang. To a mathamatician it is a “singularity,” something that lasts for zero time, occupies zero space but is infinitely high, and so I adopt a different name for the beginning. I call it “The Grand Singularity.” It suits the event better.

Was it really zero space and time? No. In reality it was simply the smallest distance there can be and the shortest time there can be because everthing in this univerise is quantized, divided into incredibly small elements. They are referred to as quanta and in this case are called the Planck time and the Plank distance. The Plank distance is about 1.6 x 10-35 meters or about 10-20 the size of a proton.

I do not expect anyone who reads this who does not already know about it (like physics professors) to understand, but that is not the point. What happened that eventually created the earth and then us was miraculus but not a miracle. What I hope is to create a feeling about the universe that changes you and changes your view of the meaning of existing. And then changes your view of what the earth means to you. And then, changes your view of what the earth should mean to the thieves that rape it for money.

In a way it tries to deal with a question that Jim Holt asked in a book and TED Talk: Why is there something rather than nothing.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

From (almost) Nothing To Everything

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This dramatic image offers a peek inside a cavern of roiling dust and gas where thousands of stars are forming. The image, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, represents the sharpest view ever taken of this region, called the Orion Nebula. More than 3,000 stars of various sizes appear in this image. Some of them have never been seen in visible light. These stars reside in a dramatic dust-and-gas landscape of plateaus, mountains, and valleys that are reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. The Orion Nebula is a picture book of star formation, from the massive, young stars that are shaping the nebula to the pillars of dense gas that may be the homes of budding stars. The bright central region is the home of the four heftiest stars in the nebula. The stars are called the Trapezium because they are arranged in a trapezoid pattern. Ultraviolet light unleashed by these stars is carving a cavity in the nebula and disrupting the growth of hundreds of smaller stars. Located near the Trapezium stars are stars still young enough to have disks of material encircling them. These disks are called protoplanetary disks or "proplyds" and are too small to see clearly in this image. The disks are the building blocks of solar systems. The bright glow at upper left is from M43, a small region being shaped by a massive, young star's ultraviolet light. Astronomers call the region a miniature Orion Nebula because only one star is sculpting the landscape. The Orion Nebula has four such stars. Next to M43 are dense, dark pillars of dust and gas that point toward the Trapezium. These pillars are resisting erosion from the Trapezium's intense ultraviolet light. The glowing region on the right reveals arcs and bubbles formed when stellar winds - streams of charged particles ejected from the Trapezium stars - collide with material. The faint red stars near the bottom are the myriad brown dwarfs that Hubble spied for the first time in the nebula in visible light. Sometimes called "failed stars," brown dwarfs are cool objects that are too small to be ordinary stars because they cannot sustain nuclear fusion in their cores the way our Sun does. The dark red column, below, left, shows an illuminated edge of the cavity wall. The Orion Nebula is 1,500 light-years away, the nearest star-forming region to Earth. Astronomers used 520 Hubble images, taken in five colours, to make this picture. They also added ground-based photos to fill out the nebula. The ACS mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon. The Orion observations were taken between 2004 and 2005.
Westerlund 2 — Hubble’s 25th anniversary image
Hubble Probes the Archeology of Our Milky Way's Ancient Hub
Hubble's sharpest view of the Orion Nebula

It seems fitting to me that the first “picture” of the universe is shapped like an egg. However, we are progressing with a story that leads to everything and everything includes you, me, the earth and everything in the sky, visible or not. Is it the greatest story ever told? In a way it is all the stories every told but it is only the leftovers from the beginning.

The Grand Singularity is said to have infinite energy. Not true, but it was enough energy to create this universe and at least one more (I will leave that for you to look up: try antimatter). The egg is an image of the extremely small variations in the temperature of the CBR and this one is of very high resolution. The colors are artificial but show the locations of galaxies and galatic clusters, the largest objects in the universe.It is one hell of an accomplishment and made by the third generation space craft. i



Enough to make dinner and dinasaurs

This all leading up to many more grand events called super novae which have the right composition and with the laws of physics being what they are explode in what is another creation, that of all the elements other than hydrogen and helium. Carbon, sodium, clorine, etc. etc. The whole periodic table.

When I study the timee-line of the universe I feel an inevitability. One stage follows another and then another until we have glaaxies, galactic clusters, and...solar systems. Suns of the right size with planets of the right size and composition and moons and it turns out that for us we have struck it rich.


Time for evolution to begin

The earth is a place to begin our existence and I make a calculation. From a partial list of seven (figure) necessary featires (and there are many more) it I assumme a 1% chance of each one )for example large planets such as Jupiter and Saturn that gather asteriods that would otherwise pummel the earth) the probabilithy of the existence of the earth is 10-14 or one in a hundred million million. Coincidently another scientist did a similar calculation for the conditions necessary for evolution and arrived at the same number. But you have to multiply them. The result is 10-28 or one in 10,000 trillion trillion.

Is the earth really that rare. Some scientiests think there are trillions of earths, but we have listened for radio signals for about 33 years and not detected anything that could come from intelligen beings.

So there you have it. Why I want to wring necks when the planet is demolished for one reason and one reason only and that is money. This was tolerable even 50 years ago, but we have reached the place where burning more fossil fuels will spell the end of life as we know it on this earth.

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From the Beginning

Speech to the World Assembly to Save The Earth

Some time ago I was trying to tell the story of the universe, the big bang, and the 11 billion years or so that followed, because I had a feeling that it all was planned, although I don’t know by whom. Many say god, but saying that I think is just naming a cause not telling me what’s behind it.

Then I start thinking, usually about two things at the same time. You can do it if you work at it.

One is that the big bang happened for no apparent reason. It began as the smallest thing that can exist, far smaller than an atom or even a proton, sometimes called the Planck Distance and the Planck Time. During this infinitely small time, the laws of physics as we know them do not work. But immediately after the bang, they do work, and physicists have figured out each step that followed. (See the figure below.) It went off, blew up. There are no words to describe it. It started from zero (well actually one quantum) of space and time and 11 billion years later we have....us.

I suggest you meditate on that for 5 minutes a day every day. It takes quite a while to sink in because there’s nothing else remotely like it. If you really want to blow your mind, there was no space and no time. It was really the creation. The beginning of everything.

I think to say “god did it” in some way is to blow it off too easily, you miss the depth of it. It’s like saying a painting just appeared, rather than knowing a person with a brush labored over it for a long time. My favorite talk about the who business of existince is Jim Holt's TED talk: “why is there something rather than nothing.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

You can trace step by step though all those years. It is called the ”time-line of the universe.” It’s hard to picture but I found the best one and it’s from NASA. (I had to turn all the labels on their side so you could read them.) Scientists, the really hard core scientists, the astro physicists, have done an incredible job of figuring out the steps. And you know what blows me away. I’ve read about this kind of stuff since I was a kid, so it’s not that strange to me. The feeling I get when I read each step is that they follow one another like a march, as if one must, has to, follow the other. Light to quarks to helium and hydrogen to stars.

This is the story of......us.
Maybe god did do it, or....who knows.
Then a really big step, somehow it feels to me a little like the big bang itself. Now that we have stars, we get a special kind, called “super-novae.” They come, last a while and then go away. The ancients wrote about them. The last one seen with the naked eye was 1604. But what they do is so important. You know the big bang was just energy, but these guys blow up too, when they run out of fuel and what do we get? All the other elements besides hydrogen and helium, which you can only make stars out of. But the super-novae give us oxygen, nitrogen, krypton, and neon and...carbon, the one thing you have to have for life. And for global warming, because when you burn the stuff that’s in the ground for millions of years, the carbon joins up with the oxygen and you get get carbon dioxide.

Kind of ironic, don’t you think, life and a way of ending life (if we don’t watch out) both.

Well, there is a bit of work before you get us and there is one thing I forgot to mention and that’s gravity. Here I won’t go into details, otherwise we would have to serve lumch, but gravity starts to pull in all the other stuff around some of the stars and some of the other stuff makes planets. Lots of differnt kinds, and moons, and asteriods and comets and...the whole kit and kaboddle. And in at least one place, maybe lots of others, but in one place we get the perfect birthday...well, we get a planet we call the earth, plus a moon plus all the stuff you need to make....us. But I left out a bunch of steps called evolution.

The earth gets put together about 6 billion years after the big bang and about a billion years later, because this planet has water and sunlight for energy and warmth, all the right stuff a zillion chemicals that scientists call precurers, in other words the stuff that comes before, and then what seems like magic, and maybe we know the steps now, not sure, you get living cells, that can divide and grow.

And you know where that is heading and if I told you I had laid out the steps I would not quite be telling the truth,, because there really are a huge huge number from the beginning to the earth and then through millions of kinds of life until about 200,000 years ago, after ground hogs, wolfs, monkeys, apes, gorellas (they are close relatives) and bonobo monkeys and chimps, we get a genus called homo.

But that’ss another beginning too, because there are homo austraulus, homo erectus....and I need my list, and neanderthals, and then about 200,000 years ago we get homo sapiens. Us. How do we know. Well archeologists have done a huge amount of the work, but now we add DNA, and genetics, and some fantastic German scientists have learned how to read very old DNA. And so we know it is Us. We are living in tribes, hunting and gathering, moving a lot and we are all in Africa. Every one of us got our start there and about 50,000 years ago migrations began from central Africa north and others east and, would you believe it across the Beiring Straights to North america and then south to the tip of South America. Plus somehow to many islands in the middle of the Pacific.

If you don’t know this story I think you should. It really changes you. You learn that being human is not trivial, and you cannot possibly imagine all that it took to get here to this overheated globe. And you start thinking about moral responsibility. But that’s not the end. Civilization takes a while, and since this has taken a bit of time I am going to tell you one more story.

It took all of four seconds for it to happen to me. I love music, and I think it is one of nature’s best things. And I‘m sitting in a large victorian living room, a salon they used to call them at an artist’s club in Boston. And just a few feet in front of me are four musicians. A string quartet from the New England Conservatory. All young, in their early 20s. They had come from Israel 11 years before, picked by the famous violonist Issac Stern. So they had been playing together for at least 11 years. And they had great teachers, and great instruments and they started with a string quartet by Mozart. I had closed my eyes to hear better because my hearing is not very good. And this quartet, begins with one note, held for about 4 seconds, steady, unison by all the instruments and the sounds of the four become one and it was the richest most beautiful sound I had ever heard and the thought flashed through my mind that I had gone to heaven....Not kidding. Exactly like that.

So....very big bang; very long time; infinite mysteries; maybe the only place in the universe, hopefully not, but maybe, and then there was me with a brain that could experience this sound, and enough listeing so I knew how to listen, and look what it got me. There are no words......

Except when the plan says 3 trillion dollars to clean up our messy air, we don’t think twice. It just would’t be right not to do it... Thank you.

Do you get it that we were born out of that almost zero size thing and now have a trillion trillion stars. No you can't get your arms about it, at least I can't and if you say you can I will say your not thinking hard enough, because the harder you think the more absolutely beyond belief the whole thing gets. Until eventually you get stars with planets. And there are a lot of them, but I really wonder how many of them are what we need. I did a little calculation. Some scientists gave a list of 7 things that must be there to make an earth we could live on (actually be created on) and it comes out 1 in a billion and I think there are a lot more things. Then someone else did it for evolution and got the same number and you end up with about 1 in the number of stars there are.

So I try to figure out all that this means. Evolution dumps us here and most of us don’t spend two seconds figuring out what it is that we are and that what it is came from the earth, just like it is, rain snow, sun hurricanes, dirt, oceans. They are all necessary and then go this idea of reverse engineering where if you can't firgure out how some thing is made you try to figure out first what you got and then work baack wards.

You know where I end up: talking to my son or my wife over breakfast and marveling what goes on between us. But where I think I love the most is sitting at my piano. Its about 100 years old, weighs a half ton, and then I talk to Chopin. I hear myself and I hear Chopin. And I remember a line on UTube of a comment about a particularly great pianist playing the Chopin Ballard No. 1 and the comment was, if someone wants to know the meaning of life he should listen to Kristan Zimerman playing the Chopin Ballard No. 1.

My Chopin is the Scherzo No. 2. I have played it at least 10,000 times. I learned it for my junior year recital in high school. 60 years ago and I play it almost every day, and in 3 seconds it cures my depression and somehow me and a crew of helpers, teachers, and a room full of artisands who made this instrumment where eacch note has 22 parts and I hear..... I am not within site of the ball park of Zimerman, but I as far as I am concerned I am in touch with Chopin and the universe, because it took the universe and stars and the earth and evooution to get me to this place. And form two little tiny images on my retinas my brain assembles a complete 3d color movie of my world, the music and the keys and my two ears do the same for the sound, and if you have never done it you should try. Take a lesson. On a really good piano. Or come on over and play mine. And I think how in bloody hell did we get from that thing tinier than a proton to this sound in this room that I can make and hear, and every single damn part of me, my brain and the piano and Chopin was created from parts of the earth and we are killing it. Not to mention fighting with each other and killing each other. This is why I cry when I listen to an oil company guy say he is going to burn his whole reserve and doesn’t give a damn. And if he does and it keeps going the way it is going there will be no more playing or hearing Chopin and we will havee destroyed what the universe gave us. And then I can’t talk to Susan over breakfast and say I wasn't so bad this morning and we start talking about whatever and often its music and we tune in and listen to Zimerman and Bernstein in the greatest concert hall and orchestra in the world in Vienna play a piano concero by Beethoven and there are a 100 musicians and their teachers and their instrument makers and two geniuses in front and I think I have gone to heaven.

Somewhow making money took over the world, or imagineing we must belong to a tribe that is chosen by god and we have to kill and start wars and splatter brains. And I think of how this mellon sizee brain hasen’t learned yet what it is like to hear and see what the whole brain working together with hunndreds of others can do and your mind creaates an experience in your head of the whole thing and we don't have a clue how or why for that matter. No Actually if you experience it you wil know why. And then maybe you will join the fight to hold onto the earth and even spend a few trillion to take the atmosphere to the laundry and get out all the extra we have put there so we save everything we can and restore as much of the rest as we can becuase you know what it is a miricle that we were given and we are killing the miracle. Could you think of anything more sad.

Zimerman: Chopin Four Ballades

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