One of the most impressive discoveries was the origin of the energy of the stars, that makes them continue to burn. One of the men who discovered this was out with his girl friend the night after he realized that nuclear reactions must be going on in the stars in order to make them shine. She said "Look at how pretty the stars shine!"I always envy people who can identify constellations, an ability I have never been able to develop beyond the basic Ursa-major level. But it must be good to have friends up there, so, when you look up, you can give Auriga, or some other constellation you recognize, a good-natured wave or a pranaam(which will duly reach in 5000-odd years), before carrying on with this tale told by an idiot.
He replied, "Yes, and right now I am the only man in the world who knows why they shine."
- Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures
I was fortunate to be working on a project with a few astronomers for a while, and their passion sort of rubs off. I am still not on talking terms with the stars. The good news is that I now enjoy gaping at those pretty pictures as much as the next yokel.
Hubble snapped the picture above yesterday, of an extremely photogenic white dwarf around 4000 light years away.
You might remember that the Sun will die as a white dwarf too, but now you get to see it. The barely visible white dot in the middle will be the Sun(shrunk to the size of earth), and the glittering expanse of millions of miles of gases, a mixture of helium, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, smoking hot at around 200,000 C and emitting ultraviolet rays, will easily reach earth.
Trust a poet to get it wrong: the world will end with a bang after all.
Check out Hubble's website for truly awe-inspiring photographs.