Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. -Chinese Proverb

Every once in a while, we’ll look out into the sky with a telescope, and see some spectacular glowing gas.

These nebulae typically come about from dead or dying stars, and are some of the most spectacular sight in the sky for astronomers, from amateur to professional.

But in the 1940s, an astronomer named Bart Bok observed these little dark “defects” in a few of these nebulae. It looked like something dark was simply sucking in all of the light around it, and refused to let any out.

In fact, looking even with modern technology (like the Hubble space telescope), we can see that a few of these regions are loaded with these weird globs of darkness.

(FYI, those black squares at the upper left tell you that this was taken with Hubble’s old camera, WFPC2.)

These are named Bok globules after their discoverer, but for a long time, we didn’t really know what they were. Of course, they must be gas and dust that blocks the light, but what was going on inside of them?

In 1947, Bok and Edith Reilly wrote what they hypothesized was going on in these globules.

Similar to an insect’s cocoon, they said, “these probably represent the evolutionary stage just preceding the formation of a star.” Only, for over 40 years, there was no way to look for them.

It was only in 1990, seven years after Bok’s death, that they were able to confirm that, indeed, there are stars being born in these collapsing regions! Why did it take so long? Because we needed to look in infrared light to find the signatures of star birth, since visible light is unable to make it through these dark globules.

And today? Let’s take a look at the famous “pillars of creation” in the Eagle Nebula.

These are clearly collapsing regions of gas and dust, but are there stars forming there? Again, visible light is no help. But if we look to our X-ray telescope, Chandra, what do we find?

Amazing! Sometimes, we get it right on our first guess, even if it isn’t confirmed until beyond our lifetimes. It’s one of the best feelings a scientist can get, is to be on the cutting edge and make an educated guess, and turn out to be right!

So I’m curious now: of all the educated guesses scientists are making, what do you think are the ones likely to turn out to be right?

Comments

  1. #1 L. Jerome
    March 6, 2010

    Oooo.. wow – I’m very excited for the comments in response to your question. I immediately scrolled down to read.

    I’m hoping for human teleportation devices to really hit mainstream society in the next 50-100 years. It might warp the crap out of space/time and create spontaneous gravity pools – but only if we do it wrong. Get on it, nerds!

  2. #2 toad
    March 6, 2010

    As far as hunches go, I’d say:

    Kepler will discover a large number of planets and moons in the Goldilocks zone.

    The LHC will not discover the Higgs Boson.

    *shrug*

  3. #3 MadScientist
    March 6, 2010

    It can be a little disappointing not being able to confirm your ideas. Large projects have some similarities; some people work so hard to get funding for an instrument they have in mind and they’re gone before it is finished and launched.

    What do you expect the large mid to far-infrared space telescopes to show us in the Pillars region?

  4. #4 Kirk
    March 6, 2010

    There’s lots of multi-verse theories. In fact I’d love to see a Starts With a Bang post about some of the more likely versions of them.

    My prediction is that one of them is correct and in the next few decades observational evidence will confirm that. I suppose it could be something as simple as finding a bunch of galaxies that are 20 billion light years away, which would show that they were formed in an event other than the big bang that formed the milky way and all other currently observable galaxies, but the confirming evidence is likely to be more esoteric than that. Perhaps some quantum or gravitation effect that can only be explained by the existence of multiple universes.

  5. #5 Kirk
    March 6, 2010

    I have a second prediction. I believe that scientists will prove the existence of extra terrestrial life fairly soon. Most likely this will be microbial life on another body in the solar system, perhaps one of Jupiter’s moons. It’s possible that intelligent life could also be found. If this happens I don’t think SETI will detect transmissions, I think it’s more likely we’ll stumble upon a robotic device within our solar system.

  6. #6 shirt
    March 6, 2010

    Dark mater will be found to be gravitational leakage from adjacent branes

  7. #7 john
    March 8, 2010

    universes prone to inheritance, variation and selection, black holes spawning new universes with slightly different parameters on big-bang-like events, producing a nice evolutionary tree… yeah, it’s so.. untestable

  8. #8 Mu
    March 8, 2010

    The revised standard model (inflation, dark matter, dark energy, green cuddly things) will be killed by the KISS principle.

  9. #9 Douglas Watts
    March 9, 2010

    I suppose it could be something as simple as finding a bunch of galaxies that are 20 billion light years away.

    I think you are misapprehending the Hubble constant. If we see in the Hubble Deep Field a very smudgy galaxy in infra-red that we compute to be 10 billion light years away from us, this really means the light we are now seeing from it was emitted 10 billion years ago. This is due to c being a constant but space itself expanding all the while it took for those photons to reach us from that tiny infra-red smudge. That galaxy has put out a lot more photons since 10 billion years ago and today, but we haven’t seen them yet. They are coming at us, at the velocity c, but all the while space is expanding and increasing the distance those photons must travel to reach us. Since c does not change, something must, and that something is that the wavelength of the photons must get longer, hence the Hubble red-shifting. So those 10 billion LY galaxies we see in the Hubble Deep Field are now, “today,” much more than 10 billion light years away from us and their speed away from us is much higher than their speed 10 billion years ago. Perhaps they are no longer putting out any photons today because the stars in them have all died and gone brown dwarf. There’s no way to know because we will not see the “evidence” (ie. the photons or lack thereof) for billions of years in the future, and only at extremely long wavelengths. With the Hubble expansion, those stars and galaxies at extreme distance X from us have the wavelengths of their photos so stretched they are no longer visible light or even infra-red, microwave or radio waves. The wavelength of a photon from a truly superdistant galaxy would be of such a long wavelength, ie. of so low energy, we would need an antenna the size of the Solar System to pick it out.

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  11. #11 colored contact lenses
    August 17, 2010

    Of course, they must be gas and dust that blocks the light, but what was going on inside of them?

  12. #12 Cheap flights
    August 25, 2010

    It might warp the crap out of space/time and create spontaneous gravity pools – but only if we do it wrong. Get on it, nerds!

  13. #13 Online Grocery Shopping
    August 28, 2010

    In fact, looking even with modern technology (like the Hubble space telescope), we can see that a few of these regions are loaded with these weird globs of darkness.

  14. #14 istanbul turkey holidays
    September 11, 2010

    Or maybe I am nothing…Darkness. By the way, this is my first CBlog (or post of any kind other than a comment) so ‘Hello’. This CBlog serves as part introduction, part Monthly Musing. Ever since I saw the most recent MM topic I’ve been sitting on this post and haven’t seen anyone else tackle it (though if others have, this isn’t an attempt to steal thunder); so, emboldened by having a question of mine addressed on Podtoid, I decided to take a shot. I opened with Jim Sterling’s iconic (in my mind) quote because I feel like it is the perfect encapsulation of everything that Kingdom Hearts is. A lot of something and a lot of nothing. This will be long, so get some cocoa and a blanket.

    I remember seeing commercials and reading snippets of articles advertising the first game in the series many years ago. I was intrigued but that was about it. To fully understand my love affair with this series, you’re going to need to take a brief RichardBlaine history lesson. You see, I was a stalwart Nintendo supporter back in the N64/Playstation days. I grew up with an NES, SNES, and so on. When the Playstation came out, I was convinced that this new “fad” wouldn’t last that long but I was secretly envious whenever an interesting title was released. I was a pretty casual gamer and basically lived off of whatever I received for holidays and birthdays, never buying games on my own or researching them. One series that I never played, but was always curious about was Final Fantasy. When the original titles were released for their Nintendo consoles, I was obliviously content with my copies of Super Mario Brothers 3 and Bart vs. The Space Mutants for my NES (I seriously think those were my only games). My parent’s taste refined when they later gifted me Donkey Kong Country, Super Empire Strikes Back, and (most importantly) Super Mario RPG for my SNES (among other titles). You see, Super Mario RPG was my first RPG title and the first game that showed me that video games could tell stories slightly more complex than ‘Kill ‘Blank’ to Save ‘Blank” and truly make me feel like I had entered another world.

    Unfortunately, by the time I realized that the Final Fantasy series was attempting to do the same thing, I had traded in my SNES and was living it up N64 style. I would have asked for Final Fantasy 7 for my family’s computer but we were that one Mac family that you knew back in the 90′s before the iPod made it cool to own one. Therefore, it was not until late in the Playstation 2′s life cycle that after a couple of price drops, I picked up my first Sony console and my first Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy X. It was love at first sight. Don’t get me wrong, the series is heavily flawed in some respects, but it’s very good at the things that it does well. I quickly went out of my way to play through the majority of the other games in the series via Game Boy Advance re-releases, Friend’s Copies, and (cough) Emulation. Being able to go back and recapture so many of those older childhood wishes was both empowering and delightful.

    Much, much, much later and fully satiated on my JRPG feast; I found myself remembering the commercials I’d seen a few years before for Kingdom Hearts. Now having been a human child during the late 80′s and early 90′s, I saw and loved just about every animated release that Disney unleashed on the unsuspecting public. Aladdin, of course, being the best. I even picked up the pretty awful direct to video sequels. This game that seemed to combine my newly found love of Final Fantasy games with my childhood and nostalgia-ridden love of Disney movies into a unique, action-RPG universe seemed to good to be true. In some ways it is.

    I went out and snagged a copy from the local EB games (to give you some dating). Upon loading it up, I found the opening video to be quite catchy and was quickly immersed in a simultaneously new and familiar universe. However, as I played, I found myself painfully aware of something. While the gameplay was fun and fast paced with outstanding voice acting from a lot of the classic Disney contributors, the story was kind of stupid. Kind of really stupid. I mean, believe in the light to save your heart from the darkness? This is a universe that operates in the same way and with the same level of subtlety as the Care Bear universe. The power of love defeating the power of darkness, the incredibly ‘emo’ characters, and the bombastic and heavy handed themes are all things that I really quite loathe. It’s the stuff that Twilight-reading/Hot Topic shopping tweens’ (no offense) dreams are made of. However, more horrifying than this realization is the fact that, in this case, I love it. I eat it up. I want to know all about the darkness and what’s going to happen to Sora and his friends. I want to know who Ansem is and what his reports say. I keep playing just a little bit longer because as much as it pains me, I NEED to know if I can redeem Riku and free Kairi’s heart. Why does the Organization wear those robes?! They’re totally lame but I want one! I’ve realized that it is to me, what my grandmother’s soap operas are to her. Having gone on to purchase and enjoy several other games in the series, I keep waffling back and forth between pure unadulterated enjoyment and utter self-loathing.

    However, let’s not pretend that the gameplay is perfect while the only problem with the series is the story. The Gummi Ship mechanic in the first game, the card based gameplay of Chain of Memories, and certain aspects of the grid system in 358 Days (also the title of 358 Days), are all systems that have some merits but all suffer heavy flaws. But the horror of these components is that like many gamers do, I find myself pushing through these unsatisfactory systems because I want to continue and advance the story. The same story that I hate but secretly love and hate myself for loving! Returning to my original statement that the series is a lot of something and a lot of nothing, I truly feel that there are so many wonderful things happening with the material being sourced and the voice acting, and simultaneously so many terrible things happening with the over the top and frequently vapid story.

    Though it may be different for some others out there, because of my history of repressed Final Fantasy gameplay coupled with a perpetual love of Disney, whenever I play these games it always feels like my inner child is getting away with something. I know that I am capable of enjoying more mature and sophisticated gameplay and story ideas. There are many games out there that are better written, designed, and played than any of the Kingdom Hearts games; but I know that once Birth By Sleep hits the shelves, I’ll put on my hoodie and shades and covertly grab a copy like a user buys his fix. It’s because of this relationship of true love for a series that combines Final Fantasy and Disney coupled with pure hate for the ridiculousness of it’s story and of myself for loving it, that Kingdom Hearts truly occupies a Love/Hate niche within this gamer’s heart. I have a feeling I’m not the only one.

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    October 15, 2010

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  19. #19 Sharon
    November 11, 2010

    As usual i love your photos and explanations, but i don’t quite understand what i should be looking at in your last photo. Perhaps you could add some arrows? Thanks.

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  21. #21 vigrx
    November 22, 2010

    Star are being born from darkness? This findings will surely the religious “theory of creation” more wrong.