The Sky is a Time Machine

863px-Pillars_of_creation_2014_HST_WFC3-UVIS_full-res

The pillars are composed of cool molecular hydrogen and dust that are being eroded by photoevaporation from the ultraviolet light of relatively close and hot stars. The leftmost pillar is about 4 light years in length. The finger-like protrusions at the top of the clouds are larger than our solar system, and are made visible by the shadows of Evaporating Gaseous Globules (EGGs), which shields the gas behind them from intense UV flux EGGs are themselves incubators of new stars

These gas clouds–or ‘star nurseries’–are part of the Eagle Nebulae, also known as M16:

Eagle_Nebula_4xHubble_WikiSky

They were discovered in 1995. The image is a composite made by the Hubble Telescope. These clouds–made out of oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur, elements found in our own bodies–are very, very far away–6,500 light years away. This means that what Hubble captured 20 years ago was a snapshot of an object that no longer exists:

“Images taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope uncovered a cloud of hot dust in the vicinity of the Pillars of Creation that one group interpreted to be a shock wave produced by a supernova. The appearance of the cloud suggests a supernova would have destroyed it 6000 years ago. Given the distance of roughly 7000 light years to the Pillars of Creation, this would mean that they have actually already been destroyed, but because of the finite speed of light, this destruction is not yet visible on Earth, but should be visible in about 1000 years. However, this interpretation of the hot dust has been disputed by an astronomer uninvolved in the Spitzer observations, who argues that a supernova should have resulted in stronger radio and x-ray radiation than has been observed, and that winds from massive stars could instead have heated the dust. If this is the case, the Pillars of Creation will undergo a more gradual erosion.Via.

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30 thoughts on “The Sky is a Time Machine

  1. I love this, star gazing is one of my favorite things to do and the fact that the stars we see in the sky are really the stars that were there many many years ago is simply amazing and awe inspiring. The sky sure is a time machine as we look at the stars that were perhaps over the dinosaurs at some point.

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    • More often than not we are looking for awesome and amazing things in other people, other places, the web, etc. But people don’t realize that the best source of awe and amazement can be found in the natural world.

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  2. One thing I have found myself constantly wondering is the following: What if we have seen young worlds that actually host amazing and civilized life forms such as ourselves, but we didn’t bother to study it further because we are seeing the world years in the past? Or for that matter, what if another organic race has seen Earth years in the past and didn’t bother to come here, not knowing the incredible life forms it harbored? Or maybe we are looking at the night sky not knowing that in a few billion or million years life might be present in asteroids or new worlds might take the place of some blank spots in the sky. It’s rather mind-boggling to think of life in that way.

    Maybe in a few million years tardigrades will evolve into a bigger and more dominant species allowing for life to take place virtually anywhere. This is highly unlikely due to the fact that they have been around for a long time but haven’t changed that much, but maybe with their recent exposures to space they might start to slowly adapt.

    Organisms like the tardigrades have foolproof lives in a sense, for their cells grow but don’t undergo mitosis. This would make life easier because you don’t have to worry that a virus will kill you, or that you will somehow develop cancer, etc. I wish we could survive in space for ten day like the tardigrades because that would allow us to explore the most brutal conditions without having to actually worry. At least, I’d like for us to develop cameras that we could strap onto them so we could send them to the moons of Jupiter, such as Europa, and see what is actually occurring on the surface.

    The sky is not the only time machine out there. Earth’s own surface and environments can serve as a time machine in a sense in both a geological and biological perspective. The ground can tell us how Earth was before, and our oceans can show us how life started. That can also be thought of as a time machine.

    Unfortunately, we take things we see every day for granted without admiring them. Take the sun for example, it’s so near but yet so far. It approximately takes its light 8 minutes to reach us, meaning we really never get to see the sun in its current condition. That would also mean that if someway the sun managed to disappear, then it would take us 8 whole minutes to even notice that it’s gone. The same applies for the Pillars of Creation and any other nebula, star, and space object we see. We are looking directly at its past, unaware of its present state. That is truly awe inspiring.

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    • Indeed. I encourage yo to keep asking those ‘what if’questions—they are very important, not just for a science fiction writer, but scientists and artists benefit a great deal from them.

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  3. It’s interesting how most of the stars we see at night are the same stars that people long ago saw. They could be in complete different situations to ours, like going through a war, and they saw the same night sky as we do. Stars are the closet thing we have to time machines since they have been around longer than most, if not all, things on Earth. This link talks about how the starts are basically a time machine: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2011/07/26/138695074/where-is-now-the-paradox-of-the-present

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  4. It is difficult to understand that stars are so old and have gone through so much time and when compared to Earth how much eras they have been through. Facts and discoveries like this are very jawdropping since it is almost unbelievable. This is one of the reasons why science is so important so people can understand things that are unthinkable. Here is a link that talks about one of the oldest stars found
    http://m.space.com/24625-oldest-star-universe-discovery.html

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  5. Who would’ve though that one could see what is not there. This is why the natural world never ceases to be discovered and be inspiring. The stars we are under right now have been seen by many civilizations before us and hopefully will continue to be explored by many generations to come.

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  6. Since I was very little I have been facinated by space. I find astronomy very intresting and I strongly believe that we could learn a lot of our planet by studying the stars. It is a huge dissapointment that space exploration doesn’t attract the attention it deserves being a field with vast opportunities. I hope that I live to see humans walk on Mars and that day will be a tremendous day for us as a species.
    http://www.nasa.gov/content/nasas-journey-to-mars/#.VP8kOIr3bCQ

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  7. It’s incredible to think that what we see every night down here on Earth, stars, planets, etc, are actually just a visual representation of what they looked like in the past. When we look up at the night sky and see a star, we are really just looking at how it looked light hundreds, even possibly thousands of years ago when the light that they were emanating first came out of the star and traveled all those many miles and light years to reach Earth. When we look at the Sun, for example, we are looking at how the Sun looked like 8 minutes ago so if something were to occur in the sun (a solar storm, a blackout, or even a supernova), it would take 8 minutes for human beings to interpret that action and actually be able to experience it.

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  8. It’s absolutely fascinating that what we see in the sky isn’t actually there anymore. The idea that there could also be civilizations thousands of years in the future looking up at the sky and seeing the light of our sun after it has already passed is absolutely amazing and really makes you analyze the irregularities of what constitutes as past, present, and future.

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  9. This is one of the many facts why the natural world is fascinating. Every star we see in the night sky is bigger and brighter than our gigantic sun. On a good night, we can see about 19,000,000,000,000,000 miles, easily. Astronomers have estimated that 275 million stars are born and die throughout the observable universe each day.

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  10. It’s a pity these things such as these are light years away. It’s good that they aren’t too close to actually effect us (after all what’s pictured is hot dust) but bad that we will likely not, at least not in this lifetime, be able to closely observe, analyze, and and gather samples of these cosmic phenomena. The universe is right now endless, there are things that one could never imagine, things that we as humans want to learn about, but right now we’re limited to the (depleting) resources we have available, and the laws of the universe. We’ve no doubt learned a lot of precious information with the developing but still limited technology we have available to us, but there will eventually be a limit that will prevent us from learning more lest we find a feasible way for people or advanced machines able to be controlled from a long distance.

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  11. I sometimes gaze at the stars and ask myself if any of them have been destroyed or if any of them are orbited by planets which harbor advanced alien civilizations, then I realize that I will probably never find out during my lifetime. We have found hundreds of exoplanets in the habitable zone that are candidates to supporting alien life but unfortunately are too far away for us to find out. I believe that with advancements of technology during the coming decades will allow us to answer many wuestions regarding alien life and will allow to start the colonization process of planets in our solar system like Mars and even moons like Europa.

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  12. I have always thought that nebulae are the most beautiful things in the night sky and that their origins are strangely poetic. I’m sad we can’t see them up close because they are very dangerous and far away, but they are the reason we exist. This means that perhaps life exists or once existed somewhere else, too.

    It’s strange to know that much of what we see when we look at the night sky is probably not there anymore because stars are so far away from Earth that it takes many years for their light to reach us. One day, an alien civilization might look at our Sun from a distance many years after it’s death. Many amazing and peculiar things can happen in this Universe.

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  13. To think that stars are time machines to the past is truly incredible. The stars we see in our night sky might not even still be there, and we wouldn’t find out for thousands and thousands of years. I wish I am lucky enough to be able to see what is described in the post, even though it is 1,000 years from now. But even more amazing is the fact that the light from the star closest to planet Earth, the Sun, still takes about 8 minutes to get to our planet’s surface. This means that if we were to look at the sun, we would be looking 8 minutes into the past. Here is where I found the information about our Sun’s light and other scientific topics as well:

    http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/about-us/49-our-solar-system/the-sun/general-questions/197-how-long-does-it-take-for-the-sun-s-light-to-reach-us-beginner

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  14. The photos from the Spitzer Telescope and the Hubble Telescope are amazing. Space is diverse and it shows examples of beauty and astonishment such as stars. I’m interested in space because you get curious as to what else exists in the universe since the Big Bang and what will happen in the future. The photo in the Blog reminded me of a supernova that I had read in the galaxy M82 which was discovered in February of 2014 and I really like. With the James Webb Space Telescope that is coming up in 2018, we’ll be able to see more pictures of space and find out more about space.

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    • When you think of Galileo looking at Jupiter and its moons, and then fast forward to the James Webb telescope, which will be much more powerful that the Hubble telescope, is very hard not to be amazed. We’ve come a long way as a species.

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  15. These imaged make me realize how many spectacular things we have discovered through science and what is yet to be discovered in the future. I don’t think everyone knows how important it is to know about these celestial bodies since we are more focused on Earth and don’t take time to admire the sky. One day in the future we might find ourselves out there, and that is why it is important to know about these things in order to survive out there, especially if it is related to time travel. If we travel far enough to space, is it possible to see the Earth’s past? We can make mathematical models but we can only be sure if we actually try it. Just imagine seeing the future or the past with the knowledge of these bodies; it can change the perspective on life as we know it. That is the importance of scince itself, it helps us understand the universe. For those who want to expand their knowledge on the Eagle Nebulae, visit this link: http://herschel.cf.ac.uk/results/eagle-nebula

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  16. It is truly amazing how big the pillars really are. Like mentioned above, the left pillar is 4 light-years in length. That is approximately 23.52 trillion miles. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. If we were able to travel at the speed of light, we could circle Earth’s equator 7.5 times in one second. And even if we could travel at the speed of light, to reach the Pillars of Creation we would have to travel four years. The size of the universe is simply unimaginable, and it keeps expanding every second. To learn more about light-years and astronomical units: https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/how-far-is-a-light-year

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  17. I’ve always found the Pillars of Creation fascinating and to think they have already been destroyed so long ago but because of speed of light’s limitations we aren’t able to see it is just mind-blowing.

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  18. It’s really fascinating to think that we live in this world that we may think is huge and amazing. But there are so many orher structures and phenomenas out in space that don’t even compare to where we live in and what we see daily. And it’s very frustrating because my curiosity is such that i find myself often thinking so deeply into what else is out there and the thought that i can’t explore anything or investigate myself frustrates me alot. I just hope that at some point in the future we will easily be able to explore much more of the universe than we already have.

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  19. I remember when I bought my first telescope. It was nothing more than a little cone, yet I still gazed at the tiny white spot on the eyepiece that was Jupiter. Later on, I upgraded to a medium-sized reflecting telescope (my first one was refracting) on a rather complex equatorial mount. I couldn’t seem to get the hang of it, so I decided to upgrade yet again to an even better, dobsonian telescope. Man, is it huge! I haven’t been able to see much lately due to the cloudy nights, so I long to get out there and see the wonders of the night sky once more.

    Here’s more info on the kinds of telescopes:
    Refracting: (http://www.yourdictionary.com//images/main/A4rfrctl.jpg) (http://www.davidreneke.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/709eq.jpg)
    Reflective: (http://www.yourdictionary.com//images/main/A4rflctl.jpg)
    EQUATORIAL: (http://www.markthompsonastronomy.com/wp-content/uploads/Equatorial.jpg)
    DOBSONIAN: (http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71nZGsQAkVL._SY355_.jpg) <–actually the one I have!

    Just think about it: here we are, and through the aid of the telescope we can observe stuff (starstuff, to be exact) that's very, very close to being part of when the universe began. It's amazing! Just as the Pillars of Creation nest (or nested, if it's true that they sadly no longer exist) and other spacial objects nest supernovas, we're only beginning to see the birth of stars that may currently exist as supernovas, white dwarfs, or even black holes. Space is a literal time machine into the past–not like in "Back to the Future" though, for we're not traveling back to 1955C.E., but perhaps to 1955000000B.C.E.!

    And so this brings up the question: if what we're observing is the past, then is it possible that life is existing out there right now? And if so, does it work the same way as in Earth? Perhaps in the Pillars of Creation, life may thrive on any of the mentioned gasses (oxygen, sulfur, hydrogen–a.k.a. the most abundant element in the universe). Perhaps evolution may have taken a different course due to the difference in spacial situation. It's like Earth's evolution and the Pillars of Creation's evolution developed differently due to spacial situations…the evolution of evolution!

    But we need to know more! Yes, we can't travel into the future by observing light, for we may only observe present or past light. Yet this just gives us a pathway into what is considered as one of the most heated debates in the scientific and religious community: how did the universe begin? What is the beginning of the universe? Sadly, the Hubble Space telescope is becoming old technology with the passing years. It simply isn't capable of reaching such spacial distances.

    But the James Webb Space Telescope will.

    This promising new piece of technology has been in development since 2011, and is predicted to be able to reach even the first outbreaks of light that ever existed! As of now, major progress has been made, but many issues regarding construction and stability are being mended and taken care of. Here's the official page about this amazing telescope; I encourage you to read about the telescope and see the accomplishments made: (http://jwst.nasa.gov/recentaccomplish.html#2011)

    In the meantime, let's admire what has already been discovered with patience and deep understanding. Most of us may look at space snaps and say to ourselves, "that's a pretty picture," myself included sometimes. But we must learn to take it in to understand how amazing it is to be able to observe the past in the present.

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  20. When I remember that the sky is a time machine, I am reminded of how the laws of nature shape our universe into what we perceive to be a work of art. Sometimes, when I have nothing to do, I like to write about things that we take for granted, like the world around us. I am also reminded of how frustrating the laws of nature can be. If humanity doesn’t develop faster than light travel, we’ll have to await years for a single ship to get to another system and back. However, its okay. Sometimes, I remember that the universe is gigantic and think of ourselves as insignificant, then our most important problems seem trivial. Then, I am reminded of how unique we are as living beings, and I start to worry again. I think the real beauty of nature is how complex it is, yet we can make is so simple by changing our perspective on our place in the universe.

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  21. I have always enjoyed stars not only for their beauty but for their purpose. Many years ago, ancient people believed they could see shapes among the stars. They identified both animals and people, and each had its own story and nowadays we still do it. Stars are the most plentiful objects in the visible universe. They provide the light and energy that fuels a solar system. They also create the heavy elements that are necessary to form life. Without stars, there would be no life. Stars with help of the sun help us provide a virtual oasis for Earth in the coldness of space.

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  22. i love to just stare at the sky and think about all the possible life forms and possiblities of planets holding life on them. also i think about time and how confusing it is to think about black holes. i recently saw a video of what would happen if you were sucked into a black hole and in the video the narrator said that if you were to be sucked in, you would see everything that has passed through and will pass through in the future. once the narrator said that i was amazed because i thought “does that mean everything is previously planned and predicted? is everything im doing right now 100% sure it was going to happen? Here is the link of the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6H6CcbIMH7I

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  23. I find it extremely impressive and interesting how things and stars that we look at in the sky aren’t necessarily there but they could dead. How there could be stars out there that we won’t know and won’t know exist until millions of years from now. Because stars light years away,their light reaches us years away. Stars could be billions of light years way. Meaning that if one of those stars exploded right now, we wouldn’t know it for billions of years. It is incredible to think that this immensity and vastness exists. This article talks more on stars and light years:http://blogstronomy.blogspot.com/2010/08/is-it-true-that-stars-we-see-are.html

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