Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The magic touch.

Ever since I was a small child, the idea of space travel has fascinated me. I can remember back in the 60's, watching the last of the Mercury missions, through the Gemini and Apollo programs. Like every other American (as well as the rest of the world) in that hot summer of July, 1969, our family watched in awe as two human beings stepped foot on the moon. My parents let me stay up late that night when Neil Armstrong planted his booted foot in the soil, and the whole world became a bit smaller. I also remember, but not totally comprehending the tragedy of two years earlier, when three astronauts, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died in a launch pad fire on Apollo 1.

The Challenger and Columbia disasters. I remember where I was when they happened. For Challenger, I was working, and had just dropped off a patient at the hospital when I heard it on the radio in the ambulance. For Columbia, it was waking up that morning to the horrible news that it had happened again.

It was this interest in the space program that pushed me towards the realm of science fiction, both in print, and in the movies and TV. I fully remember the first sci-fi book I ever read, "The Andromeda Strain." While there were some things in it at the time that were hard for a 10 year-old to grasp, I read it, and read it, over and over again until I got it. From TV, it was the the cheesy stuff, Fireball XL-5, Space, 1999, and even some of the original Star Trek series (not all of them Cake, so don't kill me) to more polished shows such as Babylon 5, and the recently ended Battlestar Galactica, where the ideas that science fiction presented allowed me to dream beyond the confines of my earthly home, and in some ways, helped me to push my own dreams forward.

Then of course, there is Blade Runner. I would be remiss in not mentioning the inspiration for this blog, as well as a movie that had a profound impact on me. It still inspires me to this day.

The unmanned missions to other planets; Pathfinder, Viking, the two current Mars rovers, just to name a few. Then, there's Hubble. I think that with all the accomplishments that other unmanned probes have to list, for me, nothing stands out like Hubble. Its eye has opened up the universe in ways that awe like no other. However, there is another telescope that has given Hubble a run for its money; the Chandra X-Ray observatory. It was this space telescope that inspired me this week, and just makes your jaw drop. It was this picture in particular, that makes me realize how insignificant, and how special we are as humans on this planet:

How incredibly amazing is this? It was labeled the "Cosmic Hand," for its obviously weird similarity to a human hand. The first thing that jumped to mind was Michelangelo's painting in the Sistine Chapel of God reaching out to Adam to give him the spark of life.

In reality, it is a nebula created by a dying star, a pulsar, seemingly touching another nebula. Though the two are far apart, they are cosmic neighbors. In any case, it is a example of the pure beauty and violence that the universe can offer.


Peter said...

This "cosmic hand" shot is absolutely stunning, reminding me of the images from a recent BBC documentary on the universe.

Somehow it's a reminder how tiny earth (and humanity) really is compared to the vastness of the universe. If everyone realized this fact, it could potentially change our behavior on this tiny planet. But from past experiences, humanity prefers to retain it's "local" look.

The Babylon 5 TV series is a much treasured personal memory too.

The show aired on cable in Belgium in the 90s and I loved every minute.
Unfortunately ratings fell and the local network never aired the final 5th season.

As there's no PAL (the EU TV standard) DVD on sale with this final Babylon 5 season from 1998, I never saw what happened to captain Sheridan, I could/can only read about it:

Th universe may be huge, but I wish the local cable TV network had allowed me to finish my dream ;-)

Bina said...

I have never been in to Science Fiction, but that is a beautiful picture.

Jay said...

What an amazing photograph! I presume that's false colour, if it's an x-ray telescope, but even so, it's quite something, and certainly does put us in our place.

I'm rather fond of a little SF soap action, too. I loved Babylon 5, and I love the later Star Treks too, for their more optimistic view of the future. Much of the SF I read as a teenager was just so downbeat.

We've just been lent the first Battlestar Galacticas so we'll give it a try. I'm told it's good. :)

Mr. Nighttime said...

Peter - Isn't Netflix over there? If it is, you should be able to get it in PAL.

Bina - It is magnificent, isn't it?

Jay - Yep, false color, but I love what they did with it. make sure you watch the BSG miniseries first before getting into the first season, as it sets everything up.

Guyana-Gyal said...

Started sneezing suddenly, so much, yesterday, couldn't say a word.

I was wondering, whether the cosmic-hand photo wasn't 'retouched' to make it look like that. I know, I know, it does sound cynical. Just wondering.

Space out there makes me feel small, vulnerable.

Space makes me marvel at how people can still be arrogant.

Retiredandcrazy said...

Could this be the "fist of God"?

jay said...

I'm pretty sure what we've been lent is the mini series, Mr N, but I'll check that. I'll let you know what I think!

Oh, and by the way, I saw that you'd tried to message me the other day, but I had the sound off and I didn't see it until too late. I had multiple windows open and it was hiding... I wasn't ignoring you, honest! ;)

Mr. Nighttime said...

Jay - You are forgiven. Now, go flay yourself with a wet amaryllis in repentance... ;-)

Sistertex said...

Truly ethereal beauty! Thank you for posting it I was unaware of the Chandra X-Ray observatory. Fascinating.