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Can you see? Do you see?

crab_swirl.jpg

No . . . that is not it . . .just my childish dabbling in Photoshop . . .

Some time last spring I had one of those wonderful experiences at the eyepiece where lots of things – meditation, scientific knowledge, a smattering of history, and the photons streaming in from this distant explosion – all came together.

What I was viewing was the Crab Nebula – the first item in Messier’s catalog and a ghostly blur in my 8-inch telescope. It’s a dim fuzzy, no doubt – and the sort of thing that I guess gets most people wondering what all the excitement is about among us folks who spend thousands of dollars on esoteric equipment and sit alone at 3 am on a frigid night and look at such things – and I got thinking, maybe this new image would help explain it?

But then – even looking at this fantastic image – the URL in a moment, please – one really needs to know what one is seeing. For me, to know meant climbing inside the body, mind and spirit of a novice, Buddhist monk who is sitting, meditation-style, beside an old master. The year is 1054 – it is night time, and spread out before them is a new star map of the heavens. The young monk holds in his hand, a brush, poised to make a stroke. But it stays poised as both monks witness the sudden brightening of a “guest” star which in a short time outshines all others.

Eventually, the young monk puts a large dot of ink on a star chart, - a dot larger than any others. Neither feels the need to acknowledge what they have seen, for they sense that what they have seen is greater than any word or gesture of theirs can explain, complement, or supplement. They have looked, they have seen, they have smiled. That is enough.

And today that explosion that brightened the skies in 1054 – that explosion goes on and yet, I know most of us never see it, never observe it, never have a clue what it is all about – think for a moment – explosions happen in “instants” – a bang, a flash, a puff of smoke - but this “instant” is already nearly 1,000 years old – this incredible cloud of gas, dust, and energy – this once-a-star that in its death throes has created the very stuff of which we are born – the heavy elements, such as carbon, so critical to our existence – are now spewing out across the universe in an expanding cloud - and so we sit here and maybe watch with eyes dulled by too much light and minds cluttered with the mundane and the trivial, as that explosion continues to echo down the corridors of time – and I know that I too, frequently look at M1 in even my largest telescope – and all I see is a grey, ghostly blob.

Maybe for me – maybe for others – thinking of this image - an image stuck together with great skill from several fantastic Hubble shots – an image which, by the way you can zoom into and prowl about in – will help – if you can only remember what it is you are really seeing. No - I don;t mean that swirl of color at the top of this entry. That's just a teaser. Please look here at what folks at the "Sky Factory" have done:

http://www.skyfactory.org/hst/crab/crab_int.htm

Posted by Greg Stone at December 9, 2005 10:57 AM Comments? Please email me: gstone@umassd.edu

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