The Smudge of Galactic History

It makes no sense really.

The sky is full of points of light and planetary discs.

Defined, finite, predictable.

Then you notice that funny, soft focus patch.  Your eyes aren’t sure and you blink.

Glare? Light pollution?  It’s almost imperceptible.  Distant unresolved stars?

What is that smudge in Orion's Sword?

Then you look through a telescope and your breath catches, your mind is stunned momentarily into silence and you realise that the little smudge is a glowing cloud and it contains shape and form.

You see texture and shades of light. It appears to go on for ever, fading into the sky around it, though the impression is of something that just dims rather than ends.

M42 - that 'smudge' in a London Sky through the Authors telescope.

Buried within it are tiny white-hot points of light. You move your eye around and averted vision catches glimpses of more and more detail.  The cloud dances in your eyepiece, you see a fleeting streak of light that is instantly lost as your eye struggles to resolve the faint stream of photons reaching out to you across 13 centuries.

It takes a while but the scale of it slowly becomes apparent.  Each point of light within the cloud is a star, some of which have the dusty nurseries of planets orbiting them.  Young, bright suns, many of them light years apart and this cloud surrounds them; it is vast and unimaginable.  This small glowing smudge that is light year across, filled with stars just thousands of years old.

The birth of new worlds-Hubble has imaged 150 proto-planetary discs in M42 NASA/ESA

As you watch you are witnessing for a moment the birth of a new region of our galaxy; stars and planets beginning their story that will not end for billions of years.  One day one of those planets may look across 13 centuries of space and remark on a small glowing smudge of gas and dust around a fading white dwarf that was home to an ancient admirer.

About astronomersden

Daddy, Hubby, Teacher and when ever I get the chance Astronomer.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, M42, Nebula, Orion, The Astronomer's Den and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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