Monday, February 27, 2006


Scientists have discovered the birth of a supernova this week
which perks my curiosity. Pondering the universe is a thinking hobby of mine and the concepts of novae, black holes, the dimension of the universe, etc. allow for much dreaming.

Considering that black holes were only a guess and a subject for sci-fi movies when I first became aware of cosmology brings about a sense of discovery and realization of theory into fact.

A supernova is basically the death of a massive star. This particular one is expected to turn into a black hole. The discovery of this supernova was caught using a satelite that measures gamma ray bursts. Following the burst is the visual death of the outer portion of the star and if you have a fairly powerful telescope and live in the Northern Hemisphere you should be able to view it.

The distance from Earth in cases such as this always leaves me in awe when pondered more deeply than merely hearing the numbers. Located in the constellaton Aires this supernova is 440 million lightyears distant from us. To think how long the light from this particular stars collapse took to reach us leaves me awestruck. This event is actually history, long ago history, I mean a really long time ago history.

If there was a world (I'll name it Katrina) like ours near this star with sentient beings with a similar technology and they of course realized that this star was going to collapse and destroy them they might be frantically trying to signal anyone beyond their planet to help them. And let's imagine that their signal reached the earth instantaneously. That would have been futile for the Katrinians as humans didn't exist. In fact that signal would not have been during the age of dinosaurs, that signal was far before then. It would have arrived in the early Silurian Period, a time of the first reefs, rapid evolution of fish, and the beginnings of spiders, centipedes and vascular plants. Important for life on Earth, but completely useless for the Katrinians watching the impending supernova.

If we could imagine that the communication signal came just a few years ago, we would be forlorn because there would be nothin we could do. "Sorry, we can't help you," in fact we can't even get a signal to them before they all die to tell them "sorry, we can't help you." In fact they had all died ages and ages ago. But we can imagine planet Katrina and imagine the Katrinians preparing to die because of the supernova AND we can watch the star do its thing. We can also imagine (and hope) that some planet (call it planet Fema) with sentient beings that was located much closer to planet Katrina came to rescue those beings just in time, like a good sci-fi movie. Hopefully the Femians didn't leave many Katrinians behind to die.

Astronomers this coming week are watching a display that might be thought of as an old (anciently old) cosmic movie. This all happened so long ago, but the light has finally reached us to let us in on the event. This is like turning on some bizarre TV. The channel shows live what happened multiple millions of years ago. The promos for this bizarre TV channel would go something like this, "Watch ancient history, live as it happens" and they would be completely accurate.

Reality in space depends on which cosmic TV station you're watching and from what seat in the universal theatre. If you're a Katrinian or Femian the event happened long ago and is replayed on their Ancient History Channel, but to us it is live, yet isn't.


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