Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Life & Death on a Cosmic Scale
A black hole in one galaxy of 3C321 attacks its companion galaxy - NASA image
Scientists on the Chandra X-Ray observatory project have discovered a rare occurrence; a black hole in one galaxy firing a stream of deadly radiation at its companion galaxy. The smaller galaxy in the 3C321 system is right in the cross-hairs of the black hole, which is bombarding it with a stream of energy so powerful that it can destroy planets, solar systems, and certainly any life that may be in the way. Scientists say that this influx of energy will stimulate the formation of new stars and planets, even as it destroys the old.
This got me thinking about how this cycle is repeated over and over on many scales. The late astrophysicist, Dr. Carl Sagan, noted that we are made of "star stuff". The heavy elements that make up our earth and our very bodies, were formed by the explosion of older stars. Without their destruction, we never could have existed. On a smaller scale, the atoms in our bodies may have been part of a dinosaur or a tree, and in the future may once again be part of some other life form.
Still I wonder just how many civilizations may be in the path of this cosmic death ray? How many sentient beings may be utterly obliterated by such an event? We will likely never know, but it does serve as a reminder that nothing lasts forever. Not us, not our species, not even our own planet and sun. Everything we hold dear will someday be displaced by an uncaring, unending cycle of destruction and renewal. At some point, our sun will explode, sending the atoms of our solar system into space to perhaps become part of another planet or star.
The reality of how the cosmos operates is far more awe inspiring than any religious mythology created by the human mind.