The heavens declare the glory of God — louder than ever
One wonders what the composer of Psalm 19's famous introductory line — “The heavens declare the glory of God” — would say if he were alive today. His paean to God's glory centered upon a mighty object to be sure; the sun. Which of us can begin to really grasp the magnitude of its raw energy budget? I mean, go and stand outside on a sunny day and feel the intensity of its warming breath on bare skin. The most muscular nuclear bombs built by men would barely give out any noticeable warmth from a hundred miles away. And while the sun can keep pumping out such heat for billions more years, an atomic bomb would give out merely a momentary flash of radiation. Anybody who imagines they can really wrap their mind around such immensity of energy should be checked for further symptoms of delusions of grandeur. Treatment may be warranted.
Were the sun our sole space mate it would provide ample testimony to the astounding power of its and our shared Creator. But although it may be the Koh-i-Noor of space to human eyes, the sun makes up an infinitesimal fraction of even our home galaxy's wonders, let alone of those of the universe. Barely a month goes by without an announcement or two from astronomers about some breath-taking new discovery. Last month, August, more than admirably fulfilled its responsibility to bring us something new and exciting from the heart of space.
On the 16th, newspapers around the world buzzed with news and a pic of a never-before-seen space phenomenon — a star trailing a comet-like, light-blue glowing tail behind it as it courses through our own galaxy at the breakneck speed of about 80 miles per second. Detected by NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer, this dying star is leaving a huge, turbulent tail of oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen in its wake that stretches for 13 light years,
or about 78 trillion miles. (The nearest star to us in the universe is only about a third that distance away.) As this material sloughs off the star is heats up then spirals back into the turbulent wake. With the surprising confidence that invariably seems to attend a startling discovery, astronomers predict that many more similar specimens will now be found.
Surely one exciting find is enough for any self-respecting month. Not so for August. On the 23rd, the same newspapers were heralding an even more bizarre revelation, this time coming from way beyond our Milky Way's edges. Headlines proclaimed, “Huge Hole Found in the Universe”. Following cues from the discovery some time ago of a “cold spot” in the Cosmic Microwave Background, astronomers trained the radio telescopes of the Very Large Array (VLA) on the region and were shocked to find… almost nothing; it's virtually empty, lacking the stars, dust, and gas normally found scattered throughout space. Not that empty regions, known as “voids”, are uncommon, it's just that in this case it's humungous. Stretching across about 5-8% of the commonly-accepted 12 to 20 billion-light-year “width” of the cosmos, this particular void is also devoid of the mysterious, almost infuriating, dark matter that permeates the universe.
Though most discoveries by the very nature of the idea can be called “unexpected”, this one dumbfounds the experts. Researcher, Liliya R. Williams, of the University of Minnesota, confesses that, “What we've found is not normal, based on either observational studies or on computer simulations of the large-scale evolution of the universe”. In short, models of the evolution of the universe starting with an undirected, inflationary, creative “explosion” cannot account for this find. If cosmologists and astronomers pinned Psalm 19 up on their computer monitors before they had another crack at explaining why we are here they would be doing themselves and the rest of the world a great favor.