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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Wonder and Majesty of it All

One of the things I strive to convey on my star tours is the sublime wonder and majesty of our universe. There are few things that strike us with awe like that of the starry night sky. As Immanuel Kant said (meaning more than we can convey here), "Two things cause wonder and awe the more often we contemplate them, the starry sky above us and the moral law within us."

This image, from the Subaru Telescope, illustrates just this point. These are two dwarf galaxies, about twelve million light years distant from us, where the larger one at center is cannabalizing the faint red one on the upper right. For the first time, the individual stars in the galaxy being swallowed are imaged. The gravitational interaction has caused the younger dwarf in the center to undergo a starburst of new star creation, seen in the large number of young, hot blue stars in it. Meanwhile, the older dwarf is pulled apart as its older, red stars are sucked into the younger dwarf -- another form of  "nature, red in tooth and claw".

This is a very beautiful and wonderous sight by itself. But click on and enlarge the image and you will see in the background, countless other galaxies, almost too numerous to number, some single, others violently interacting with each other. Every non-stellar point in this image is a distant galaxy, an Island Universe of its own, with hundreds of millions to many billions of stars, with planets too numerous to count. (Our own Milky Way galaxy is now thought to have as many as 50 billion planets orbiting its stars.)

Dwarf Galaxy NGC 4449 stealthily swallows its companion to the upper right. (Click for a much larger full resolution image.) Photo: Subaru Telescope

So gaze and wonder, so filled with awe are we at this mighty creation that G-d has made. And yet, at the same time, we believe that Hashem is cognizant of everything in the very small, as well as the very large, and the needs of every individual creature, both great and small: "Paseach et yadechah u'matbeah l'chol chai ratzon." ("Thou openest thy hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing with favor." - Psalms) And this is the greatest wonder of all.

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