Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Veil Nebula 

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has unveiled in stunning detail a small section of the expanding remains of a massive star that exploded about 8,000 years ago.
Called the Veil Nebula, the debris is one of the best-known supernova remnants, deriving its name from its delicate, draped filamentary structures. The entire nebula is 110 light-years across, covering six full moons on the sky as seen from Earth, and resides about 2,100 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.
This view is a mosaic of six Hubble pictures of a small area roughly two light-years across, covering only a tiny fraction of the nebula’s vast structure.
This close-up look unveils wisps of gas, which are all that remain of what was once a star 20 times more massive than our sun. The fast-moving blast wave from the ancient explosion is plowing into a wall of cool, denser interstellar gas, emitting light. The nebula lies along the edge of a large bubble of low-density gas that was blown into space by the dying star prior to its self-detonation.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team
Last Updated: Sept. 24, 2015
Editor: Sarah Loff

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Are We Really All Made of Stars?

Credit: NASA/ESA/HEIC/Hubble Heritage Team

"We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff," Sagan famously stated in one episode.
His statement sums up the fact that the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms in our bodies, as well as atoms of all other heavy elements, werecreated in previous generations of stars over 4.5 billion years ago. Because humans and every other animal as well as most of the matter on Earth contain these elements, we are literally made of star stuff, said Chris Impey, professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona.
"All organic matter containing carbon was produced originally in stars," Impey told Life's Little Mysteries. "The universe was originally hydrogen and helium, the carbon was made subsequently, over billions of years."
How star stuff got to Earth
When it has exhausted its supply of hydrogen, it can die in a violent explostion, called a nova. The explosion of a massive star, called a supernova, can be billions of times as bright as the Sun , according to "Supernova," (World Book, Inc., 2005). Such a stellar explosion throws a large cloud of dust and gas into space, with the amount and composition of the material expelled varying depending on the type of supernova.
A supernova reaches its peak brightness a few days after it first occurred, during which time it may outshine an entire galaxy of stars. The dead star then continues to shine intensely for several weeks before gradually fading from view, according to "Supernova."
The material from a supernova eventually disperses throughout interstellar space. The oldest stars almost exclusively consisted of hydrogen and helium, with oxygen and the rest of the heavy elements in the universe later coming from supernova explosions, according to "Cosmic Collisions: The Hubble Atlas of Merging Galaxies," (Springer, 2009).
"It's a well-tested theory," Impey said. "We know that stars make heavy elements, and late in their lives, they eject gas into the medium between stars so it can be part of subsequent stars and planets (and people)."
Cosmic connections
So, all life on Earth and the atoms in our bodies were created in the furnace of now-long-dead stars, he said.
In 2002, music artist Moby released "We Are All Made of Stars," explaining during a press interview that his lyrics were inspired by quantum physics. "On a basic quantum level, all the matter in the universe is essentially made up of stardust," he said.
More recently, Symphony of Science, an artistic project headed by John Boswell and designed to deliver scientific knowledge though musical remixes, released "We Are All Connected." The song features clip of Sagan's "We're made of star stuff" proclamation, created into a song with  software program Auto-Tune .

Billion Star Sky Surveyor Launches

Billion Star Sky Surveyor Launches

Billion Star Sky Surveyor Launches

Europe's Gaia Space Telescope  promises to create the most accurate map of the Milky Way galaxy ever attempted. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier
Europe’s Gaia Space Telescope promises to create the most accurate map of the Milky Way galaxy ever attempted. 
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier

Europe’s new Milky Way Galaxy mapping-mission, called Gaia, is about to embark on a space mission that should create the most detailed three-dimensional star chart of the nearest billion stars. Each and every target star will have its position, distance, movement, and changes in brightness followed at least 70 times over a five year period. (See also ”Mystery Deepens Over Where Sun Was Born“.)
The two-ton space telescope,  launched on Thursday on a Russian Soyuz rocket, headed into orbit from the European Space Agency’s spaceport in French Guiana.
Light from the cosmos will focus onto Gaia’s eye, a single digital camera equipped with a billion-pixel CCD chip-set, the largest and most sensitive light-detector ever flown in space.
With 100 individual mini-detectors working in concert, star positions will be measured with stunning precision, down to 10 micro arc-seconds of accuracy. “This is an astonishing step up in accuracy. To give an example, Gaia will measure the difference in position of one side of a human hair compared to the other side of it—in Paris, as viewed from London,” said mission scientist Mark Cropper, from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in a statement.

Big Bang Discovery Opens
Doors to the "Multiverse"
An illustration of multiple universes.
This illustration depicts a main membrane out of which individual 
universes arise; they then expand in size through time.

3D visualization of gravitational waves produced by 2 orbiting black holes.
Gravitational waves trigger ripples in space, seen in this illustration.

Big Bang's "Smoking Gun"
Confirms Early Universe's
Exponential Growth

This discussion suffers from the same basic failing of all physical science: The assumptions that "our universe" consists only of what we can observe with instrumental aids to the five human senses and that that artificially limited physical volume of mass, energy, time and space had a primordial origin in nothingness with no precursors. Those anthropocentric assumptions with no proofs defy the idea of infinity as unbounded and ignore other means of human knowing beyond the five senses and the omniscient awareness of omnipresent consciousness just because they cannot be "objectively" confirmed and communicated by intellectual processes among brains using our abstract languages and symbols. Hopefully the scientists will get it some day by pursuing answers to their continually unending questions until all assumptions are transcended.
Kim Prangley shared Elevate's photo:
And yet some people think something like free energy is impossible! I wouldn't count ANYTHING out just yet! We humans do NOT know it all..........

Linde is riveted by the possibility that the explosion didn't just create us -- but billions of other universes governed by different physical laws. It is a comfortable concept for a mind that grew up under Soviet dogma and distrusts any single authoritarian system -- including monotheistic religions ruled over by a single God. He said he is more attracted to polytheistic Eastern philosophy.
"Even if one tries to interpret our results in religious terms, I think that it would be such a waste of energy for 'God' not to use this way of creating a universe -- to take a milligram of matter and then the universe does the rest of the job by itself, producing infinite number of universes," he said.
If there was a creator of the universe, was the work signed? Is there a hidden message? The inflationary expansion could make it too huge to read, he concedes. But perhaps the message is encoded in the laws of that universe -- legible only to physicists. The thought brings him joy.
"Maybe God is a physicist hacker," Linde laughed. Then he turned quiet. "I am not so sure this is just a joke."
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.

Catching a GLIMPSE of the Milky Way

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Some Strange Things Are

 Happening To Astronauts

 Returning To Earth

Who would have thought traveling to outer space could be such a profound experience? OK, probably everybody, but these former astronauts really articulate it in a way that was just a little mind-blowing. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

This map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected with the greatest precision yet by the Planck mission. The ancient light, called the cosmic microwave background, was imprinted on the sky when the universe was 370,000 years old. It less 

The anisotropies of the Cosmic microwave background (CMB) as observed by Planck. The CMB is a snapshot of the oldest light in our Universe, imprinted on the sky when the Universe was just 380 000 years old. It shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today.

ESA and the Planck Collaboration

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An Awesome and Terrifying Event

Leaping off the sun to the right is a giant plume of solar material – ionized gas called plasma – from sunspot 1283. This sunspot ejected four solar flares and three coronal mass ejections from September 6 to September 8, 2011. The picture here, captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows light with a wavelength of 335 Angstroms. Credit:NASA/SDO/AIA

Dark Energy, Dark Matter

One of the most widely studied and debated Universe phenomenon is dark energy and dark matter.  Dark energy and dark matter and their relationship to an expanding Universe is a mystery yet to be solved.  The main thesis of this NASA article is we are more knowledgeable regarding what dark energy/dark matter are NOT than what they are.  So far Einstein's Theory of Relativity remains valid.

Dark Energy, Dark Matter -

In the early 1990's, one thing was fairly certain about the expansion of the Universe. It might have enough energy density to stop its expansion and recollapse, it might have so little energy density that it would never stop expanding, but gravity was certain to slow the expansion as time went on. Granted, the slowing had not been observed, but, theoretically, the Universe had to slow. The Universe is full of matter and the attractive force of gravity pulls all matter together. Then came 1998 and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) observations of very distant supernovae that showed that, a long time ago, the Universe was actually expanding more slowly than it is today. So the expansion of the Universe has not been slowing due to gravity, as everyone thought, it has been accelerating. No one expected this, no one knew how to explain it. But something was causing it.
Eventually theorists came up with three sorts of explanations. Maybe it was a result of a long-discarded version of Einstein's theory of gravity, one that contained what was called a "cosmological constant." Maybe there was some strange kind of energy-fluid that filled space. Maybe there is something wrong with Einstein's theory of gravity and a new theory could include some kind of field that creates this cosmic acceleration. Theorists still don't know what the correct explanation is, but they have given the solution a name. It is called dark energy.

What Is Dark Energy?

Universe Dark Energy-1 Expanding Universe
This diagram reveals changes in the rate of expansion since the universe's birth 15 billion years ago. The more shallow the curve, the faster the rate of expansion. The curve changes noticeably about 7.5 billion years ago, when objects in the universe began flying apart as a faster rate. Astronomers theorize that the faster expansion rate is due to a mysterious, dark force that is pulling galaxies apart.
NASA/STSci/Ann Feild
More is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe's expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 70% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 25%. The rest - everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter - adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn't be called "normal" matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the Universe.
One explanation for dark energy is that it is a property of space. Albert Einstein was the first person to realize that empty space is not nothing. Space has amazing properties, many of which are just beginning to be understood. The first property that Einstein discovered is that it is possible for more space to come into existence. Then one version of Einstein's gravity theory, the version that contains acosmological constant, makes a second prediction: "empty space" can possess its own energy. Because this energy is a property of space itself, it would not be diluted as space expands. As more space comes into existence, more of this energy-of-space would appear. As a result, this form of energy would cause the Universe to expand faster and faster. Unfortunately, no one understands why the cosmological constant should even be there, much less why it would have exactly the right value to cause the observed acceleration of the Universe. 
Dark Matter Core Defies Explanation
This image shows the distribution of dark matter, galaxies, and hot gas in the core of the merging galaxy cluster Abell 520. The result could present a challenge to basic theories of dark matter.
Another explanation for how space acquires energy comes from the quantum theory of matter. In this theory, "empty space" is actually full of temporary ("virtual") particles that continually form and then disappear. But when physicists tried to calculate how much energy this would give empty space, the answer came out wrong - wrong by a lot. The number came out 10120 times too big. That's a 1 with 120 zeros after it. It's hard to get an answer that bad. So the mystery continues.
Another explanation for dark energy is that it is a new kind of dynamical energy fluid or field, something that fills all of space but something whose effect on the expansion of the Universe is the opposite of that of matter and normal energy. Some theorists have named this "quintessence," after the fifth element of the Greek philosophers. But, if quintessence is the answer, we still don't know what it is like, what it interacts with, or why it exists. So the mystery continues.
A last possibility is that Einstein's theory of gravity is not correct. That would not only affect the expansion of the Universe, but it would also affect the way that normal matter in galaxies and clusters of galaxies behaved. This fact would provide a way to decide if the solution to the dark energy problem is a new gravity theory or not: we could observe how galaxies come together in clusters. But if it does turn out that a new theory of gravity is needed, what kind of theory would it be? How could it correctly describe the motion of the bodies in the Solar System, as Einstein's theory is known to do, and still give us the different prediction for the Universe that we need? There are candidate theories, but none are compelling. So the mystery continues.
The thing that is needed to decide between dark energy possibilities - a property of space, a new dynamic fluid, or a new theory of gravity - is more data, better data.

What Is Dark Matter?

Abell 2744: Pandora's Cluster Revealed
One of the most complicated and dramatic collisions between galaxy clusters ever seen is captured in this new composite image of Abell 2744. The blue shows a map of the total mass concentration (mostly dark matter).
By fitting a theoretical model of the composition of the Universe to the combined set of cosmological observations, scientists have come up with the composition that we described above, ~70% dark energy, ~25% dark matter, ~5% normal matter. What is dark matter?
We are much more certain what dark matter is not than we are what it is. First, it is dark, meaning that it is not in the form of stars and planets that we see. Observations show that there is far too little visible matter in the Universe to make up the 25% required by the observations. Second, it is not in the form of dark clouds of normal matter, matter made up of particles called baryons. We know this because we would be able to detect baryonic clouds by their absorption of radiation passing through them. Third, dark matter is not antimatter, because we do not see the unique gamma rays that are produced when antimatter annihilates with matter. Finally, we can rule out large galaxy-sized black holes on the basis of how many gravitational lenses we see. High concentrations of matter bend light passing near them from objects further away, but we do not see enough lensing events to suggest that such objects to make up the required 25% dark matter contribution.
However, at this point, there are still a few dark matter possibilities that are viable. Baryonic matter could still make up the dark matter if it were all tied up in brown dwarfs or in small, dense chunks of heavy elements. These possibilities are known as massive compact halo objects, or "MACHOs". But the most common view is that dark matter is not baryonic at all, but that it is made up of other, more exotic particles like axions or WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles).

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dark Matter Maps

"Dark matter makes up the bulk of the universe's mass, yet it can only be detected by measuring how its gravity tugs on visible matter and warps space like a fun-house mirror so that the light from distant objects is distorted."

Bending the Light

This image of galaxy cluster MACS J1206.2-0847 (or MACS 1206 for short) is part of a broad survey with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

The distorted shapes in the cluster are distant galaxies from which the light is bent by the gravitational pull of an invisible material called dark matter within the cluster of galaxies. This cluster is an early target in a survey that will allow astronomers to construct the most detailed dark matter maps of more galaxy clusters than ever before.

These maps are being used to test previous, but surprising, results that suggest that dark matter is more densely packed inside clusters than some models predict. This might mean that galaxy cluster assembly began earlier than commonly thought.

The multi-wavelength survey, called the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH), probes, with unparalleled precision, the distribution of dark matter in 25 massive clusters of galaxies. So far, the CLASH team has completed observations of six of the 25 clusters.

Dark matter makes up the bulk of the universe's mass, yet it can only be detected by measuring how its gravity tugs on visible matter and warps space like a fun-house mirror so that the light from distant objects is distorted.

Galaxy clusters like MACS 1206 are perfect laboratories for studying dark matter's gravitational effects because they are the most massive structures in the universe. Because of their heft, the clusters act like giant cosmic lenses, magnifying, distorting and bending any light that passes through them — an effect known as gravitational lensing.

MACS 1206 lies 4.5 billion light-years from Earth. Hubble's keen vision helped CLASH astronomers uncover 47 multiple images of 12 newly identified faraway galaxies. Finding so many multiple images in a cluster is a unique capability of Hubble, and the CLASH survey is optimized to find them. The new observations build on earlier work by Hubble and ground-based telescopes.

The era when the first clusters formed is not precisely known, but is estimated to be at least 9 billion years ago and possibly as far back as 12 billion years ago. If most of the clusters in the CLASH survey are found to have excessively high accumulations of dark matter in their central cores, then it may yield new clues to the early stages in the origin of structure in the universe.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Postman (STScI), and the CLASH Team

Friday, September 16, 2011

Galactic Growth Slow and Steady

Herschel Mission Finds Galactic Growth Slow and Steady

The Herschel Infrared Space Observatory discovered that galaxies do not always need to collide with each other to drive vigorous star birth. The finding overturns a long-held assumption and paints a more stately picture of how galaxies evolve. The new results are based on Herschel's observations of two patches of sky, each about one-third the size of the full moon.               Image Credit: ESA–AOES Medialab

Friday, September 9, 2011

Unbelievable Picture of Saturn

Sometimes reality is just as stunning as science fiction

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Supernova 'brightens up' September 7-8

The nearest supernova of its type to be discovered for 40 years is predicted to be at its brightest 7-8 September and will be visible through a good pair of binoculars.
The , which was first spotted on 24 August by scientists from Oxford University and the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) collaboration, is in the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101.

Whilst not visible to the naked eye, with a clear sky anyone can observe the supernova using a good pair of  or a :
To find M101 look for the formation known as ‘The Plough’ or ‘Big Dipper’, trace from the end of the ‘handle’ of The Plough and find the second star along, Mirza, and M101 lies four degrees to the East. Observers will see a bright star at the edge of one of M101’s spiral arms.
'The best view of this exploding star is likely to be this Wednesday or Thursday. Look for it just after evening twilight near the ‘handle’ of ‘The Plough’,’ said Dr Mark Sullivan of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, who led the Oxford team. ‘Whilst it looks more or less like just another bright star, unlike its companions this supernova will soon fade away, and after a few days it will only be visible with larger telescopes.’
The discovery of the supernova is particularly important because it is a type 1a supernova – the kind used by scientists to measure the expansion of the Universe.
Dr Sullivan added: ‘For many people it could be a once in a lifetime chance to see a supernova of this kind blossom and then fade before their eyes; we may not see another one like it for another forty, or perhaps over a hundred, years!’
The Oxford University-PTF team are using the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the supernova. These observations began about five days after the explosion and will continue into mid-October, including investigating the supernova's ultraviolet properties which cannot be studied from the ground.
Provided by Oxford University 

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Well

TheDivine Dynamic,    

Fr. John Surette's  book (Published, September 2010)can be purchased through Ministry of the Arts

The Divine Dynamic is a series of short reflections on the Scriptures for individual and group use on nine major themes of cosmic spirituality. It challenges the way we think about God, the planet of which we are a part, and the ways we relate to one another.

The 156-page, 6 x 8" book sells for $14.95 and is available by credit card from the Ministry of the Arts ( or from ACTA Publications ( It is also available from booksellers nationwide.

Here are the chapters of the book:
  • The Promise of More
  • Mystics with a Small “M”
  • The Immensities
  • Soul Size
  • Interface
  • The Cosmic Banquet
  • Eco-Justice
  • Domains of Emergence
  • The Planatary Human 

The Well is blessed to have Fr. John Surette, SJ, Spiritearth co-founder, as a member of their Well team.  Fr. John is a wonderful homilist.  He consistently unfolds the Gospel message in light of his “green spirituality,” anchoring his insights in his deep appreciation of our Creator God, and the beauty and significance of all of creation. John seeks to come to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human in relationship to the Sacred Universe.  

In response to popular demand, we have decided to share John’s homilies with you on the web-site and through emails.  Click Here to Select Homilies.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fuels Burning in Space


Because of the absence of gravity, fuels burning in space behave very differently than they do on Earth. In this image, a 3-millimeter diameter droplet of heptane fuel burns in microgravity, producing soot. When a bright, uniform backlight is placed behind the droplet and flame and recorded by a video camera, the soot appears as a dark cloud. Image processing techniques can then quantify the soot concentration at each point in the image. On the International Space Station, the Flame Extinguishing Experiment examines the combustion of such liquid fuel droplets.

This colorized gray-scale image is a composite of the individual video frames of the backlit fuel droplet. The bright yellow structure in the middle is the path of the droplet, which becomes smaller as it burns. Initial soot structures (in green) tend to form near the liquid fuel. These come together into larger and larger particles which ultimately spiral out 
of the flame zone in long, twisting streamers. 

Image Credit: NASA

Friday, May 27, 2011

Planetary Systems' Cosmic Stew

his image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows what lies near the sword of the constellation Orion.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Toledo 
This is the first time such crystals have been observed in the dusty clouds of gas that collapse around forming stars. Astronomers are still debating how the crystals got there, but the most likely culprits are jets of gas blasting away from the embryonic star.

"You need temperatures as hot as lava to make these crystals," said Tom Megeath of the University of Toledo in Ohio. He is the principal investigator of the research and the second author of a new study appearing in Astrophysical Journal Letters. "We propose that the crystals were cooked up near the surface of the forming star, then carried up into the surrounding cloud where temperatures are much colder, and ultimately fell down again like glitter."
Spitzer's infrared detectors spotted the crystal rain around a distant, sun-like embryonic star, or protostar, referred to as HOPS-68, in the constellation Orion.
The crystals are in the form of forsterite. They belong to the olivine family of silicate minerals and can be found everywhere from a periodot gemstone to the green sand beaches of Hawaii to remote galaxies. NASA's Stardust and Deep Impact missions both detected the crystals in their close-up studies of comets.
The Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency-led mission with important NASA contributions, also participated in the study by characterizing the forming star.
"Infrared telescopes such as Spitzer and now Herschel are providing an exciting picture of how all the ingredients of the cosmic stew that makes planetary systems are blended together," said Bill Danchi, senior astrophysicist and program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
The Spitzer observations were made before it used up its liquid coolant in May 2009 and began its warm mission.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

WISE's Last Light

On the morning of Feb. 1, 2011, WISE, or the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, took its last snapshot of the sky. This 'last light' image is reminiscent of the 'first light' image from WISE, taken only 13 months prior. WISE's final picture shows thousands of stars in a patch of the Milky Way galaxy, covering an area three times the size of the full moon, in the constellation Perseus. 
After its coolant ran out in October 2010, WISE warmed up from minus minus 436 to minus 328 degrees Fahrenheit (260 degrees to minus 200 degrees Celsius). This image contains data from the two detectors largely unaffected by the warmer temperatures. This region of the sky had been observed by WISE previously in all four of its detectors as part of its primary survey. There is no noticeable difference in the quality between that first image and this newer one, imaged at 3.4 and 4.6 microns.

In the short 13 months that WISE surveyed the sky, it produced millions of infrared images. It covered the whole sky at its four bands, and covered it twice at 3.4 and 4.6 microns. Now that the survey is complete, WISE is being put into hibernation. While the satellite sleeps and circles more than 500 kilometers (about 310 miles) above the Earth's surface, the WISE team is busily preparing its data for two big public releases: one this April, and the final release in the spring of 2012. 

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hubble views the star that changed the universe

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has been trained on a single variable star that in 1923 altered the course of modern astronomy. 
V1 is a special class of pulsating star called a Cepheid variable that can be used to make reliable measurements of large cosmic distances.
 Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

( -- Though the universe is filled with billions upon billions of stars, the discovery of a single variable star in 1923 altered the course of modern astronomy. And, at least one famous astronomer of the time lamented that the discovery had shattered his world view.
The star goes by the inauspicious name of Hubble variable number one, or V1, and resides in the outer regions of the neighboring , or M31. But in the early 1900s, most astronomers considered the Milky Way a single "island universe" of stars, with nothing observable beyond its boundaries. Andromeda was cataloged as just one of many faint, fuzzy patches of light astronomers called "spiral nebulae."
Were these spiral nebulae part of the Milky Way or were they independent island universes lying outside our galaxy? Astronomers didn't know for sure, until  found a star in Andromeda that brightened and faded in a predictable pattern, like a lighthouse beacon, and identified it as V1, a Cepheid variable. This special type of star had already been proven to be a reliable distance marker within our galaxy.
The star helped Hubble show that Andromeda was beyond our galaxy and settled the debate over the status of the spiral nebulae. The universe became a much bigger place after Hubble's discovery, much to the dismay of astronomer Harlow Shapley, who believed the fuzzy nebulae were part of our Milky Way.
Nearly 90 years later, V1 is in the spotlight again. Astronomers pointed Edwin Hubble's namesake, NASA's , at the star once again, in a symbolic tribute to the legendary astronomer's milestone observation.

"It's a landmark discovery that proved the universe is bigger and chock full of galaxies. I thought it would be nice for the Hubble telescope to look at this special star discovered by Hubble, the man."
But Hubble Heritage team member Max Mutchler of the STScI says that this observation is more than just a ceremonial nod to a famous astronomer.
"This observation is a reminder that Cepheids are still relevant today," he explains. "Astronomers are using them to measure distances to galaxies much farther away than Andromeda. They are the first rung on the cosmic distance ladder."
The Hubble and AAVSO observations of V1 will be presented at a press conference May 23 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Boston, Mass. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Body Type and Body Images as Reflected in Art

The Venus  of Willendorf  (c. 24,000  BC)

The Venus of Willendorf and other small statuettes carved during the Paleolithic period suggest that heterosexual men actually prefered curvy women.  Recent studies indicate this is and has been part of a long-term preference and trend. 

In the  Stone Age,  fat was beautiful because it meant vitality and  fertility.  The Venus  of Willendorf  (c. 24,000  BC),  a tiny  limestone statuette found in a riverbank  above  the Austrian Danube in 1908, has become  one of the most popular objects in world art. 

The  sac-like  breasts,  bulging  belly,  and  padded  hips  conflate woman  with  her  procreative  function.  She  symbolizes  health and  abundance.  But  the  masked  face  and  withered  arms disturbingly  show  that  she  has  no  sight,  speech,  or  reach-no identity as  an individual.

As a general rule, large,  ample women have preferred status in agrarian or subsistence periods, while a thin, linear  silhouette becomes  fashionable  for  women  in urban  or  courtly  societies. When  food  is in short  supply,  a plump wife  advertises  a man's wealth and property.

Venus Anadyomene. c.1520.
But there were also biological reasons why, when both pregnancy  and childbirth  could  be difficult and dangerous,  fleshy  women  with  wide  hips  were  seen  as  better prospects  for  motherhood  than  thin women  with  narrow  hips. 

Today  we  know  that  body-fat  level  is  connected  to  fertility: women runners who become  too lean may develop  amenorrhea, since  nature  interprets  low  weight  as  a sign  of famine, insufficient  to  support  pregnancy.  With  today's  media  focus  on thinness,  young  women  are  torn  between  nature  and  society: when fat is the  enemy, young women are at war with their own fragile, life-creating  physiology.

The complete article is an excellent art reference of female body types.  More, the article gives some insight of how the ideal body images are reflected in today's media.  Survey art history courses contribute a counterbalance with it's chronological sweep.  Unfortunately, these courses are losing ground to highly specialized courses in the United States.