Imagine the transition between certain levels of knowledge: once, we thought that some piece of soil was all there was to our world. The ocean was its boundary, behind the waters: all-limiting mountain ranges or the end of the plain, that we inhabit. Then, some oceans were percieved as large lakes, only distant waters were the frontiers that seperated us from the void. But the void is something we humans don’t particularly feel safe to believe to be in our neighbourhood, so the void was filled by means of mathematics and personalization of human form and charakters. Gods were born, eventually one god, who was the great mechanic behind the clockwork of existence. In greek and later arabian philosophy, the skies were following geometric laws, were rationally devided into seven layers and even though God alone presided this system, human beings felt good imagining an understandable creation. (see Ibn Tufail, the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe)
Our imagination grasped ever wider conceptions of the universe. Every time we learned something new about its functioning, new possibilities for us to act emerged. This happened at different times and only to a few people: hindu scholars who by means of algebraic mathematics laid out the groundwork for the understand of great processes a few centuries into our time. Arab philosophers and scientists around the end of the first millenium. European enlightened men and some women from the 16th century on.
But this was all nothing compared to the leaps that our mind made during the 19th and especially 20th centuries. Around 1800 Herschel understood, that we are among some hundred million stars in the milky way. Shapley, beginning 20th century, realised, that in this galaxy, we are no center and there might be even more stars but he would claim, that all other things we see, including the andromeda “nebula”, are small parts of it as well. It was hard to imagine, that if it was a very near galaxy like Curtis claimed, it would be 10^8 light-years away. Now this happens to be true and was very well shown by Edward Hubble and today, we look into a space, that light needs around 14 billion years to cross and its constantly expanding.
This is astronomy alone. Yet with the other sciences, despite of the grim political and dull every day realities, an almost infinite number of new things to reckon, of possible space to move in by means of an immagination-powered vessel: alien life, artificial life, parallel universes, travel through time, longer life, weather control, free information flow and so many others. I believe it were our technological advances, that let the far future being already a topic of general discussion today. It’s not only science fiction for geeks, but for mainstream audiences. And in politics and economy, claims are constantly argumented with possible effects on future developments.
The amount of percieved possibilities distracts some, so that most of their output, whatever it might be, is just superficial babbling, when everything is possible, anything is worth to lose to much time with; others are guided by them.
One of these is certainly astrophotographer David Malin. In his long career he has developped methods to picture in a breathtakingly detailed way the beauties far above our heads. He has shown in an extraordinary approach to “wild life” photography what nature has to offer, and what can be won, by dedicating one’s life to something as seemingly gray, as science. He unveils Nebulae, Stars, Galaxies and recently even the microscopic structures of organic and anorganic molekules. And also his shots of meteorological phenomenons are among the best available. Go check him out at his homepage, I will scatter some examples on the way, to make you curious.
The remnanets of a supernova we saw in 1054: the crab nebula
The pleiades with their cloud:
If you are a fan of real life pictures of your sky, you can also try out his book “Ancient Light” – for stunning black and whites.
And to round up this post, a HD video compiled by ESA 2010, zooming in into the star-forming center of Orion: