Sunday, November 14

The Big Picture

This is object M51, also know as the Worlpool Galaxy ,in the catalog of ojects discovered by French Astronomer Charles Messier, in 1773. The picture you are looking at is of light that left the galaxy 37 million years ago, a snapshot in time. One can only wonder what has transpired in the interim, what kind of life has come and gone, or even if it is still around. One of these nights an atronomer might point his telescope for a good look at M51 and find it gone as if a great curtain had descended upon the Universe, or as the result of a single cataclysmic event that left no trace.

By the time that the light that is presently being generated by the stars of this galaxy reach earth, we will likely to have become part of the Geological record. One can only wonder if or in what form our progeny will have taken by that time. Will the fires of humanity been extinguished opening the way for another species to develop intelligence. Will we have evolved into being comprised mostly of energy and have the capacity to manipulate both space and time, or will we still be corporeal beings. Will the Dolphins succeed us and be the first to master intergalactic travels.

One of the things I loved about astronomy as a kid was the certainty of my place in the universe. I realized that I was but a grain of sand in a milkeyway sized sand pile, it was rather humbling. I also realized that every time I looked trough the eyepiece that I was affectively at the healm of a time machine. Our closest star bombards us with life giving energy that has traveled through space for around 8 minutes before it reaches us. Think about what you have done in the last five minutes, and then realize that the sunlight that hits the earth now was already traveling through space at 186,000 miles per second was three minutes into it's voyage. i don't know about you, but that shit blows my mind.

Philosophically speaking, our lives consume so little time as to become an insignificant part of the whole. In real terms no one is as likely to remember who Newton was, as they are to remember me a few million years down the road, so what does it really matter, why not just take the path of maximum selfishness, one way you could look at it, I guess. Or we could choose to use that small sliver of time to make the world a better place than we found it, and take solace in the fact that our posterity might enjoy it as much as we have.

I look at that picture and wonder how many solar systems are contained within its confines, how much life might exist in varying levels of complexity. Has intelligent life evolved by the time this light was created, and if so, what has become of it. What sentient life has developed in the following 37 million years? I also wonder if an inhabitant of that galaxy is looking at a picture of ours and posting his or her or it's thoughts on their version of a weblog. Might an advanced civilization from our galaxy be in communication with their counterparts in M51? The questions go on and on. what is clear to me is that if we continue on our destructive path, our posterity will never have a chance to find out.

Hubble Gallery