When Galaxies Go Bad

Trying to find something amusing on TV while I crochet away the afternoon, I stumbled on a real gem of a "science" show on what we like to call the "Not If But When" channel. It wrapped up with some of the silliest anthropomorphizing I'd heard in a long time. The parts in quotations were spoken by people purporting to be real-live astronomers:
Galaxies are home to stars, solar systems, stars, planets, and moons. Everything that's important happens in galaxies. Galaxies are the lifeblood of the universe. "We arose because we live in a galaxy. Everything we can see and everything that matters to us happens within galaxies."

But the truth is, galaxies are delicate structures, held together by dark matter [previously identified as the stuff that must be there because it accounts for the tendency of galaxies to stay together when otherwise we'd expect them to fling apart]. Now, scientists have found another force at work in the universe. It's called "dark energy." Dark energy has the opposite effect of dark matter. Instead of binding galaxies together, it pushes them apart. "The dark energy, which we've only discovered in the last decade, which is the dominant stuff in the universe, is far more mysterious. We don't have the slightest idea why it's there." "What it's made from, we don't really know. We know it's there, but we don't really know what it is or what it's doing." "Dark energy is really weird. It's as if space has little springs in it, which are causing things to repel each other, and push them apart."

Far in the future, scientists think that dark energy will win the cosmic battle with dark matter, and that victory will start to drive galaxies apart. "Dark energy's going to kill galaxies off; it's going to do that by causing all the galaxies to recede further and further away from us until they're invisible, until they're moving away from us faster than the speed of light, so the rest of the universe will literally disappear before our very eyes. Not today, not tomorrow, but in perhaps a trillion years, the rest of the universe will have disappeared." Galaxies will become lonely outposts.

But that's not going to happen for a very long time. For now, the universe is thriving, and galaxies are creating the right conditions for life to exist. "Without galaxies, I wouldn't be here, you wouldn't be here, perhaps life itself wouldn't be here." "We're lucky. Life has only evolved on Earth because our tiny solar system was born in the right part of the galaxy. If we were any closer to the center, well, we wouldn't be here." "At the center of the galaxy, life can be extremely violent, and in fact, if our solar system were closer to the center of our galaxy, it would be so radioactive that we couldn't exist at all."

Too far away from the center would be just as bad. Out there, there aren't as many stars. We might not exist at all. "So in some sense, we are in the 'Goldilocks' zone of the galaxy: not too close, not too far, just right." . . .

More and more scientific research is focusing on galaxies. They hold the key to how the universe works. "We should be amazed to live at this time: here, in a random universe, on a random planet, on the outskirts of a random galaxy, where we can ask questions and understand things from the beginning of the universe to the end. We should celebrate our brief moment in the sun."

Galaxies are born. They evolve, they collide, and they die. Galaxies are the superstars of the scientific world, and even the scientists who study them have their favorites . . . . "My favorite galaxy is the Milky Way galaxy. It's my true home."

We're lucky that the Milky Way provides the right conditions for us to live. Our destiny is linked to our galaxy, and to all galaxies. They made us, they shape us, and our future is in their hands.
We were discussing recently the appropriate use of poetry in science writing. We also have been discussing the abiding human need to construct fables of meaning, but I prefer my fables more coherent than this. The producers of the show (and most of the "scientists" they were interviewing) needed to put down that doobie. If we had been somewhere else, we wouldn't be here. But as it is, no matter where we go, there we are. And I can feel my skeleton.


james said...

Where do I begin? "delicate structures?"

Never mind.

Wrt poetry and science writing, Charles Williams wrote "Love was even more mathematical than poetry; it was the pure mathematics of the spirit."

He thought good poetry had a kind of precision, even in its nuances.

Texan99 said...

Delicate structures, like rose petals. Rose petals that fill the gentle but precarious pillow on which all life is nurtured in the multiple galaxies we call home -- for now. Until the universe spins out of control and launches us all into the cold, frozen, lonely dark, after the gods of matter and energy complete their epic battle to the death at greater than the speed of light. Maybe not now, maybe not next week, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

bthun said...


james said...

Maybe it sounds better with Frost Giants.

Grim said...


Anonymous said...

[blinking through a sweetish smelling cloud of combusted herbs] "Duuuuude. That's deeeeeeep."

Um, yeah. I think they need to check the oxygen levels in the observatory.


DL Sly said...

I've been telling y'all for years now to come on over to the Dark side....we have more than cookies.

Ymar Sakar said...

Galaxies stay together because at the center is a transcended entity that knows how to utilize the energies of ying and yang to form a rasen, or spiral.

Black holes, tornadoes, the DNA helix, all are examples of the power of a simple thing: the spiral.

The galaxies that "aren't" held together by spirals, are truly different species and adhere to different philosophies of universal existence. Wars may result due to this difference of opinion.

The Milky Way has numerous spirals and has given life and existence to spiral, rasen, life forms. Thus if any other galaxy seeks to invade, they must be destroyed with an application of spiral power. For humans, this can be found in the power systems of Taiji Chuan.