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The Superb Fails to Impress

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 24, 1996.

Years ago, perhaps in the 1950’s, National Geographic featured an artist’s drawing of all the different types of galaxies. There were cluster, and spiral, and crab nebula and they were improbably clumped close together, for which the magazine apologized and noted this was not drawn to scale, and colored with lovely, delicate shades and hues, seemingly chosen where each color would have the most pleasing effect. It was an awesome work to me then in those pre-Apollo mission, even pre-Sputnik days. It is hard to define the terms with which to conceptualize our own solar system, much less millions of stars. But now science has said their estimate of the number of galaxies was wrong by a factor of five. There are 50 billion of them. Even Carl Sagan must blanche.

Last week, delayed by the government shut down, NASA released some color photographs that look eerily like that artist’s conception of 40 years ago. Taken by the Hubble telescope pointed towards the handle of the big dipper, it shows - again improbably clumped together, vibrant red-orange squashed nebula, and dual armed white spirals, and light blue clusters and a hundred different shapes and sizes. It’s real. It’s what our universe looks like, and I cannot tell you how beautiful it is, makes me feel, excites me, and will you when you see them. It’s in Newsweek, page 53, and the Internet.

It amazes me that the biggest stories are never given the coverage deserved. Race is revealed to be a biological chimera by Stanford University last year and those stupid little racial characteristics confirmed to be what those fuzzy-headed liberals always said they were: superficial and unimportant. And now, discovery after discovery in space, confirming that - alone or not - we live amid splendor, glorious beauty, and mystery, verifying the intent of the Bible, all religions, and science, and nobody seems to be even impressed. We thrill to OJ’s comeuppance, the budget battle, and a presidential election, our own silly traumas and problems, and the Super Bowl. We weep for rainforests, insects, and owls, more or less sincerely, but sometimes the mundane and cosmic fail to get appropriate attention.

A Washington official, late in life, commented that after a day’s considerations of important concerns, it helps to take a minute and consider the city, the electric lights, the shadows they throw, the people they shield. And, above all, the stars. When you lie in the grass next time, and seek the solace the heavens grant, you can now visualize what lies between those vibrating orbs of light. It’s simply vast, colorful, stirring, and absolutely beautiful, just lovely. What a wonderful knowledge to know what lies hidden in the dark.