Join 3,431 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Universe is beautiful.
December 19, 2012 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Phil Plait presents the Best Astronomy Images of 2012. Plait and Bad Astronomy previously.
posted by davidjmcgee (15 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I had not seen this before. Incredible.
posted by Think_Long at 9:09 AM on December 19, 2012


These images make me simultaneously wish I were religious, and glad that I am not the dismissive sort of religious person that I see around me all the time. (In that the science is the beauty, not "boy that Jesus sure does paint pretty pictures")
posted by DigDoug at 9:14 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Space. Is so cool.
posted by bricksNmortar at 9:18 AM on December 19, 2012


These images make me simultaneously wish I were religious, and glad that I am not the dismissive sort of religious person that I see around me all the time. (In that the science is the beauty, not "boy that Jesus sure does paint pretty pictures")

That anyone can remain religious, or maintain a worldview that posits humanity as the center of the universe, after viewing the Hubble Extreme Deep Field is proof that our hubris is as wide as that image, while our actual knowledge is as small.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:30 AM on December 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


This picture stands as proof of what we humans can do: fling a spacecraft to another planet and safely land a one-ton, laser-eyed, nuclear-powered mobile chemistry lab.

Awesome.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:35 AM on December 19, 2012


This picture stands as proof of what we humans can do: fling a spacecraft to another planet and safely land a one-ton, laser-eyed, nuclear-powered mobile chemistry lab.

Still have problems with space toilets though.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:40 AM on December 19, 2012


On Aug. 31, 2012, the Sun had a major hissy fit: A vast arch of material was lifted up off the surface by the Sun’s powerful magnetic field. Sometimes these arches collapse back down, but this one erupted, blasting literally hundreds of millions of tons of superheated plasma into space at a speed of 1,400 kilometers per second (900 miles per second)—over a thousand times faster than a rifle bullet. The scale of this is crushing—the arch was 300,000 kilometers (200,000) miles) across, 25 times larger than the Earth. As we near the peak of the Sun’s magnetic cycle, we’ll be seeing even more activity like this in the coming months.

Dear Ancient Mayans:

We're very, very sorry for ever having doubting you.

Also, for Mel Gibson's Apocalypto.

Thank you for the concept of zero.

See you all in a couple days.

Sincerely,
The Human Race

P.S. Stepped pyramids are waaay cooler than the smooth-sided kind.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:41 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


That anyone can remain religious, or maintain a worldview that posits humanity as the center of the universe, after viewing the Hubble Extreme Deep Field is proof that our hubris is as wide as that image, while our actual knowledge is as small.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to climb to the top of that temple of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza, AKA "El Castillo." Not at night, though - I would have loved to see that galactic view. I believe they've stopped people climbing up there since then, so I feel lucky to have had the chance.

The stairs are quite steep, so I clambered up by myself while my (now ex-) wife and stepson stayed behind. At the top, there's an enclosed room with four openings. I confess that it was less impressive on the inside than I had expected: rough walls and not a lot of ornamentation, if any. Small, a bit cramped. And as a modern person who has stood inside who knows how many skyscrapers and flown in countless airplanes, the view looking out over the complex and surrounding jungle was great, but nothing new. We sometimes forget just how blessed we are in the modern world with man-made heights and flying.

It sprang to mind as I stood there, catching my breath after the climb, what the priests in the distant past would have made of seeing the future with tourists climbing over and inside their sacred temple. Would they have been horrified? Angry? Amused?

While we're blessed in the modern world in many ways, one of our definite curses is losing the stars. And pictures on magical screens don't cut it - the visceral thrill of being able to see the titanic arm of the Milky Way galaxy stretching across your sky is just tremendous. Not to mention seeing it actually moving above you as the night goes by. With modern knowledge of our planet's microscopic place in the universe, how can we not be blown away by what's going on above our heads? Again, assuming you can see the view.

Being (slightly) let down by the top of El Castillo, I imagined the priests might have gotten somewhat bored by the view as the years went by, or at least jaded a bit. The common folk below might have been scared or in awe of the sanctum sanctorum on the pyramid above, perhaps imagining the supernatural wonders contained at the top. Or were they jaded as well? I can picture them going about their business never particularly looking up at the pyramid, as it faded into the background of their everyday lives. But in any case, the "view" at the top of the pyramid isn't just what you see, it's what the pyramid and the entire Chichen Itza represents, its place in time and space.

It's easy to be jaded about the universe. I was born the year we first landed on the Moon, so I've never known a time when our civilization wasn't striving upward and outward. My brain has been inundated by one beautiful celestial image after another, from lunar footprints to far-flung galaxies practically since birth. I should be jaded by the view on my LCD screen. And some days, I am. With the crazy year I've had, with accompanying depression, it was easy to say "meh" at much that has passed across my visual cortex, including the universe's wonders.

Then Phil Plait comes along with a post near the end of November, "The Ruins of Past, Present, and Future", in which he ties together the Mayan pyramid, the Orion Nebula, and the Yucatan Peninsula in a beautiful mosaic of creation and destruction, using that picture included in today's Best of 2012.

It had me in tears.

It is far too easy to be jaded, especially if you spend an inordinate amount of time in this morass of sarcasm, irony, and embitterment called the Internet. And it is also far too easy to ignore one's sense of awe while striving for evidence-based reality versus faith-based myths in constructing your belief system.

But I urge everyone to find a dark place at least once a year, preferably outside of the range of anything resembling an electronic network. Maybe a scary place, with only a flashlight or campfire to keep away the unknown snuffling and footsteps in the darkness around you. Once a year, maybe on a solstice or equinox, just for the fun of it. Hold hands with your loved ones if they're around. Take a moment to catch your breath like I did at the top of the pyramid. Try to quiet the apathetic voices in your mind for a few minutes.

And look up.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:25 AM on December 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


After seeing this, I'm thinking that if the world gets destroyed this week, it's no big deal because there's plenty of universe out there still.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 11:28 AM on December 19, 2012


A) Those images are mindblowing. B) That was beautifully written, Celsius1414. Thank you.
posted by hannahelastic at 11:39 AM on December 19, 2012


While we're blessed in the modern world in many ways, one of our definite curses is losing the stars. And pictures on magical screens don't cut it - the visceral thrill of being able to see the titanic arm of the Milky Way galaxy stretching across your sky is just tremendous.

I have in the last year become addicted to the star parties out at the McDonald Observatory. It's the darkest spot in the contiguous 48 & it's clear there some 250 nights a year. Being up on a mountain with all... that... overhead is positively overwhelming. We're going back again over spring break, and I've been just jubilant since booking the hotel yesterday afternoon.

One forgets the stars in the city, and one should not forget the stars.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:48 AM on December 19, 2012


That anyone can remain religious, or maintain a worldview that posits humanity as the center of the universe...

The former is by no means defined by the latter.
posted by SollosQ at 11:52 AM on December 19, 2012


Every year at Burning Man I bike out to the perimeter fence (which is as far from the lights and the people as a person can go) on Tuesday night, before most of the crowd shows up. It's dark and it's quiet and there are no nearby trees or structures to block out the sky. I sit down and I stare up into the sky for as long as I can stand it before the Total Perspective Vortex starts fucking my head.

Every year, this has been my favorite night of the event. I expect that it will remain so for the foreseeable future.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:57 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


While we're blessed in the modern world in many ways, one of our definite curses is losing the stars.

Exactly. I like to kid myself and think that if more of us were able to take the time to see the stars from a remote location away from light pollution, things might be a little different. It really puts one's existence into perspective.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 12:50 PM on December 19, 2012


That anyone can remain religious, or maintain a worldview that posits humanity as the center of the universe, after viewing the Hubble Extreme Deep Field is proof that our hubris is as wide as that image, while our actual knowledge is as small.

To the contrary. When I look at that deep field and count the number of galaxies... so many, that they don't even have names... well, my first reaction, of course, is "Oh. My. God."

But my second and more serious reaction is of being humbled before the majesty and mystery of creation. How can there be so many galaxies and so many stars, each with planets that, surely some of them, harbor life and perhaps even intelligence? How is it that all of this came out of nothing? And how can I not believe that there is a Creator which made this and which is waiting for us to notice and to be humbled?

Let me quote roombythelake, who made a similar comment after viewing some small-scale physics photograps from this post (full disclosure: that was my post).

Wow. You know, looking at those nature.com pictures of the year (and specifically my favourites, the bouncing liquid and also number 8, "Dazzling Droplet"), I had a thought: I'm not God (and I don't mean to open the epic derail of whether or not there is one now, so let's not, please), but if I were, I'd get sorta frustrated sometimes. Because so much of my best work happened on a scale that was usually entirely overlooked. I'd want to say, look over here, look at this--look how perfect this is! And it would be hard to be patient about it. I might get disappointed. But, a few billion years later, when a few people finally did notice what it looks like when liquid bounces on liquid AND figured out how to take pictures of it happening so they could show other people too, I'd feel real proud, both of them and of myself. Because, after all this time, I'd finally know that someone else noticed what I'd been waiting to show them. And that, when finding it, they shared my excitement at witnessing something so perfect.

That's all I wanted to say. I'm an atheist, but I guess a good photo just makes you think those sorts of thoughts sometimes. Thanks for the link.


Well, it's all good food for thought. Nice posting, davidjmcgee. It works for atheists and believers, both!
posted by math at 2:13 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older In May 16, 1961, Park Chung-hee ended the Second R...  |  All the Whos Down in Whoville ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments