Sunday, 14 June 2015

Day 4: The 3 ages of man

Drawing away from the Cat's Paw nebulae and, leaving behind this explorer's disappointment, the journey continues on to the next nebula.

NGC 6357 grows larger as its inky blackness soon blots out the sky. The stars of our galaxy disappear as the heavy black curtain is gradually drawn to a close.

The bright points of hot class A and O stars come to the fore. A constellation obscured by distance and the bright background now takes prominence in the sky. Our ancestors created shapes in the stars and worshipped them, told stories of great acts of bravery that placed heroes and symbols in the sky to watch over them.

For a moment's indulgence between jumps I try and imagine a story behind this configuration of stars. A brave young man, spear held high, ready to slay an implacable foe.

Jump. Moving clear of the bright star and locating the constellation again, it has become a stalwart mature hunter carrying provisions home to family.

Jump. An old man hunched over and relying on a walking stick. Revered in wisdom and experience.

Shaking my head clears the picture from my mind as the journey of 60 light years has distorted the formation of the stars beyond recognition. The old superstitions surrounding the configuration of the stars are long gone. It is difficult to worship the stars when you wander among them, and much has fallen to the wayside because it could only be seen from the single viewpoint of Sol, our origin system.

An awe still remains though: of the true scale unknown and un-knowable. Fears and superstitions of another kind now live out here amongst the stars.

Entering the darkness of the nebula leaves behind the bright glow of the galaxy. A chance to survey the nearby stars for curiosities, and the cartography maps are throwing up a few named systems.

A neutron star! Intense brightness from this collapsed remnant of a supernova floods the canopy, and the brightness filters struggle to control it. The scars and scratches on the canopy fog the view ahead.

The heat of the star threaten to overwhelm the ships systems, rising sharply towards the upper safety limits. Better to back off, and veer away from the approach, than be caught in a maelstrom of heat death.

Finally! Small black holes of only a few solar masses in size. Three of them in one system CL PISMIS 3.

Flying close shows their gravitational lensing of the background, and the swirl of stars and drawing a cloak around the mysteries of these singularities. Scanned for the stellar cartography scientists back home, their secrets will remain veiled for a while longer I'm sure.

The curiosities of NGC6357 have been exhausted and thoughts return to fuel scooping for the journey onward.

This leg of the trip has made good progress, and we're almost 1/3 of the way to our destination.

The expanse ahead is a long desert with grains of stars and no oasis of nebulae in easy sight. I'll have to keep an eye out for other curios, but for now its time to take a rest.

Out of range of the nearest black hole of course.