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All posts for the month April, 2010

Stars in Billions and Billions of Galaxies

Take a good look at this picture.  Go ahead, embiggen it. Check it out. I’ll wait.

A view of 12 billion years of cosmic history -- courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope.

What you’re looking at are galaxies. There are 7,500 of them in this image, which covers a very small angular area of space. The most distant galaxies lie more than 13 billion light-years away. That means the light captured in this image of those galaxies was shining a few hundred million years AFTER the Big Bang — the event that resulted in the birth of the universe.  The closest galaxies in this image emitted their light about a billion years ago.

When you look at this image, you’re gazing at a slice of cosmic time, a snapshot of galaxies in nearly every stage of formation and evolution.  If you looked in every direction, across the entire sky, the view would be similar to this — galaxies as far as we can detect. Billions and billions of galaxies, each one comprised of anywhere from a few hundred million stars to hundreds of billions of stars.

Think about that as you gaze at this picture.

That’s a lot of stars.  And, you have to wonder if we really are the only ones out here in this vast cosmos to appreciate that fact.  Are we the only life capable of looking up and wondering if any of those other stars have planets and life? I often think about that concept — as I  wonder what the future of the cosmos will be; and think about the glories of past histories in other galaxies — glories we can only appreciate as a dim glow from a galaxy long, long ago and far, far away.

In Memory of John H. Collins, Jr.

What do you say about a guy who, as a kid, loved to ride his bike up and down the hilly streets of North Boulder, who played tuba in the junior high band, who sang the “Oscar Meyer Weiner” song in harmony with his sisters, who could whistle up a storm, who could take things apart and put them together again, whose nickname was Hobbit, who loved the Tolkien book of the same name, who listened to Meat Loaf and Led Zeppelin, and read Dune? A guy who lived an eccentric life up to the very end?

On Friday, our family will be saying “Good bye” to that guy.

He is my late brother John.

On Facebook today my youngest brother Joe wrote the following about John:

“So, give someone a hug today, lift up a toast for those who have gone before us, and relax knowing that the afterlife has one more shining, if somewhat eccentric star, shining in it tonight.”

We found out this past Monday that John suffered an accidental death — a slip and fall in the shower — alone in his apartment.  The past two days have been very tough as we wrap our heads around the manner of his passing.

The last time he and I talked was a few days before his death. We chatted about our usual favorites: food and music. He was a jalapeño fan and I told him about some peppers we’d had a few days earlier that had burned our mouths off.  He chuckled and teased me about being a wuss. He mentioned that he’d found a vintage Led Zeppelin album at a local store and we reminisced about our mutual appreciation of Led Zeppelin IV.

John was born a few years after me. Like me, as a kid, he was fascinated with the stars.  I remember once being out on the grass with him when we were kids and, like that famous scene in Huckleberry Finn, we sat there and speculated about what the stars were and whether they had been made or just put there.  I remember he used to be fascinated with an object called the “Coal Sack”, which is in the southern hemisphere sky. I don’t think he ever saw it, but he must have read about it somewhere.

I’d like to think that he’s out there checking out the Coal Sack. And, maybe he’s whistling to himself as he used to do.

So, here’s to the memory of our brother John.

The memorial service is Friday John, and we’re hoping it will be as much a celebration of the good parts of the unusual life you led as it is a marking of your passing. We have pictures and poetry about you, John. And hey — maybe we’ll even manage a stanza of the Oscar Meyer Weiner song in your honor.

But,  it won’t be the same without your voice in the harmony.

Here’s to ya, Lad.

Rest in peace.

The Coal Sack, in the Southern Hemisphere sky. Courtesy Axel Mellinger, taken at Cederberg Observatory, South Africa.