The Stars Like Dust

The Growing-up of a Star, ESO

"The astronomers had a close look at the object known as MWC 147, lying about 2,600 light years away towards the constellation of Monoceros ('the Unicorn'). MWC 147 belongs to the family of Herbig Ae/Be objects. These have a few times the mass of our Sun and are still forming, increasing in mass by swallowing material present in a surrounding disc."

Editor's note: I see a lot of stunning images every day as I prepare and post items on Yesterday, one image passed through my gaze and caused me to take notice.

This image reminded me of one I first saw 30 years ago - in a (pre-Hubble) book called "Colours of the Stars" - an image of a star field so dense that you could see thousands of them in a glance with no effort. Almost like stepping stones across a brook. This new image from ESO, titled "Around MWC 147", shows a similar distribution of stars. In some places, at full resolution, it seems that the stars are bumping into each other - almost like couscous or grits in a pot of hot water.

Of course, they are not bumping into each other - we are looking at a 2D image of a vast 3D structure. That said, the clustering of so many stars gives them a commonality - almost Saganesque i.e. like the proverbial grains of sand often used to describe how many stars there are.

As always, there are artifacts in electronic images - places where images have been pasted together or portions where data collection was less than perfect. Stars that are a bit less than a pixel in size do not fully appear. Kind of like watching digital cable TV when the bandwidth drops and things start to break down to isolated clusters of pixels.

In looking at the hi-res version of this image I noticed some of these artifacts - seams in the image. Given the sheer density of the stars in this image, I could not help but think that the home star of a sentient civilization could have inadvertently been omitted due to someone's Photoshop skills or the sensitivity of a CCD. A few pixels and someone's history is omitted.

Just recall the scene from the film "Apollo 13" where Tom Hanks (as Jim Lovell) holds his thumb up to obscure Earth - and his reaction to be being able to do so.

Zooming back out a bit, I get this impression that stars are not rare things. Indeed, they are common. And even if the conditions for life require a rather rare confluence of conditions, ample opportunities for life exist due to the sheer number of stars.

As I look at this image, I cannot help but think of the title of an Isaac Asimov novel "The Stars Like Dust" - for that is exactly what I am seeing.

So, take that, those of you out there who think we can learn nothing from exploring space - and ourselves - virtually and in person.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on January 30, 2008 12:06 AM.

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