Monday, January 21, 2008

underneath the satellite sky

Ever since I wrote the post on memory the other day, I’ve had the Hubble Telescope on my mind (which may explain the headaches). I don’t know much at all about the giant flying machine except it is discovering all kinds of things about our universe and sending back pictures that are absolutely amazing. When I went to the website today, I found this image of an Einstein Ring


and this explanation:

The Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a never-before-seen optical alignment in space: a pair of glowing rings, one nestled inside the other like a bull's-eye pattern. The double-ring pattern is caused by the complex bending of light from two distant galaxies strung directly behind a foreground massive galaxy, like three beads on a string. This very rare phenomenon can offer insight into dark matter, dark energy, the nature of distant galaxies, and even the curvature of the universe. The phenomenon, called gravitational lensing, occurs when a massive galaxy in the foreground bends the light rays from a distant galaxy behind it, in much the same way as a magnifying glass would. When both galaxies are exactly lined up, the light forms a circle, called an "Einstein ring," around the foreground galaxy. If another background galaxy lies precisely on the same sightline, a second, larger ring will appear. The massive foreground galaxy is almost perfectly aligned in the sky with two background galaxies at different distances. The foreground galaxy is 3 billion light-years away. The inner ring and outer ring are comprised of multiple images of two galaxies at a distance of 6 billion and approximately 11 billion light-years. The odds of seeing such a special alignment are estimated to be 1 in 10,000.

What I understand about those words is what looks like a single image to me is the alignment of light particles just now getting to where we can see them that range from 3 to 11 billion light years away and the chance of them lining up as they did is better than the chance of me winning the state lottery.
Here are two other images I saw (took) today:













Ginger and I participated in Durham’s Annual Martin Luther King Celebration March and Rally with several hundred folks who walked side by side through downtown and ended up worshipping together (more than rallying) at First Presbyterian Church. This is my first experience living in a town so directly affected by King and all of the Civil Rights Movement. The history I had been taught second hand, the experiences I had growing up in Africa, the way Martin’s words and writings have influenced me over the years, and the spirit of those with whom I walked today aligned to give me my own little Einstein Ring, I guess I could say, bending the light and dark of all these experiences into a picture I had not anticipated.

You see, the reason Hubble had been on my mind is I’ve been thinking about all the things it had gone past. The pictures get cooler and more amazing and the gallery gets larger and larger and stuff gets left behind. (My metaphor breaks down a bit here. Hubble is actually orbiting the earth taking pictures deeper and deeper into space; I didn’t know that when I was thinking about this stuff so bear with me.) Hubble was launched in 1990, the same year Ginger and I married. In the same years that it’s lens has been pointing deeper and deeper into the universe, my focus has not been quite as singular. I’ve been a youth minister, a Blockbuster video guy, a substitute teacher, an English teacher, a concert security guy, and a chef – and that’s just the jobs. I’ve made candles and handmade cards, painted with watercolors, learned to write icons, written songs, wrote the draft of a novel, am trying to put together a book of poetry and recipes, and written this blog. I’ve lived in four towns, five houses, and had six schnauzers. I’ve worked on Habitat projects, written letters for Amnesty, cooked who knows how many church dinners and breakfasts, had three foster kids, and probably lost track of more stuff than I’ve hung on to. Whether I’m in orbit or hurtling through space, stuff – even important stuff – has gotten left behind.

Yet, when I read about the Einstein Ring, which I found by accident on the Hubble site as I went to find the link for this post, it gave me a different way to think about it. When we say a star is three billion light years away, it means the light we are seeing is three billion years old: that’s how long it took to get where we can see it. Sometimes the light from things long ago takes a while to get here and, when it does, it shines in such a way to make connections we had not seen before. Sure, some stuff stays behind us (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing) and there are things we will not understand until the light of both the past and the present hits just right.

Ginger came home from another MLK service this evening and, in the course of our conversation, said, “You know, the world is really different than it was forty years ago.”

Yes, it is. We can see that now.

Peace,
Milton

5 comments:

Tess said...

Milton, using this (excellent) post to ask a question: is there a problem with your blog's feed? I ask because new posts aren't showing up in my reader so for a while there I thought you weren't writing anything. I have lots of catching up to do!
I deleted your feed and reinstalled it on Sunday, but this post from yesterday didn't pop up. Maybe it's just me - I use Google Reader.

don't eat alone said...

Tess

Thanks for the note. I've heard the same thing from a couple of folks; I'll check it out.

Peace,
Milton

Tess said...

Hi, whatever you've done, it seemes to have worked - I just scrolled down my reader and your feed served up ten unread posts! Great.

Rev Scott said...

That is so frigging cool - what beauty there is in God's massive handiwork.

"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?"

The same one who spread the stars walked with Martin and all the rest and upheld their strength and spirits with power beyond words. That's pretty mind-boggling to me tonight.

Real Live Preacher said...

The Hubble has opened up all kinds of interesting thoughts for me. As you noted, the farther away we see, the farther back in time we see. Somewhere on the other side of the Universe, things are happening. I happen to think the Universe will end up being full of diverse life, but regardless, SOMETHING is happening.

And we have no way of being connected to it. The speed of light is a bitch. The ultimate chaperon, protecting the Universe from our prying eyes. Maybe God wants us to leave them be and vice versa.