Eye Of God Found - But No Mote

This remarkable new image of the Helix nebula is a recent product of the European La Silla Observatory in Chile using a special camera attached to a telescope.

(The Helix nebula)

ESO explains that the Helix (NGC 7293) is the result of the "final blooming" of a Sun-like star before its "retirement" as a white dwarf.

Gas blown from the star's surface radiates outwards and "shines" under ultraviolet light from its hot progenitor. The photograph, taken by the Wide Field Imager attached to the 2.2-metre Max-Planck Society/ESO telescope, shows a central blue-green glow caused by "oxygen atoms shining under effects of the intense ultraviolet radiation of the 120,000C central star and the hot gas".

ESO elaborates: "Further out from the star... the red colour from hydrogen and nitrogen is more prominent."

In their classic 1974 book The Mote in God's Eye, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle describe one of science fiction's most recognizable places - the Coal Sack. Here's the description of the Coal Sack, Murcheson's Eye and the Mote in God's Eye.

The Coal Sack was a nebular mass of dust and gas, small as such things go - twenty-four to thirty light years thick - but dense, and close enough to New Caledonia to block off a quarter of the sky. Earth and the Imperial Capital, Sparta, were forever invisible on its other side. The spreading blackness hid most of the Empire, but it made a fine velvet backdrop for two close, brilliant stars.

Even without that backdrop, Murcheson's Eye was the brightest star in the sky - a great red giant thirty-five light years distant. The white fleck at one edge was a yellow dwarf companion star, smaller and dimmer and less interesting: the Mote. Here the Coal Sack ahd the shape of a hooded man, head and shoulders; and the off-centered supergiant became a watchful, malevolent eye.

The Face of God.

(The Mote in God's Eye)

Obviously, this is not an sf prediction; however, in the novel, the sight of the Coal Sack and it's two small stars fueled the creation of the Church of Him. Perhaps this picture of the Helix nebula will do something similar.

Read more at Stargazers peer into the 'Eye of God'.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/27/2009)

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