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Visions of The Cosmos

The Ultimate Question - The Only Miracle - The All Consuming Enigma 

Why Is There Something And Not Nothing?

Even before our ancestors began to fashion tools and learn the art of making fire they must have gazed at the wonders of the Earth and the marvels of the star studded heavens and asked such questions as why are we here, what made us, why are we born and why do we die?   They made myths and legends of how the Earth and the plants and animals that inhabited almost every nook and cranny of its surface came to be.  Above all they wondered about the presence of men and women in the world.  At first they endowed every plant and animal with a spirit - later they invented a whole world of gods and goddesses and still later the great religions and philosophies were born.  These religions tried to answer the ultimate question which is still unanswered.  They depended on BELIEF and FAITH.   Science however came along and began to find out HOW the Universe operated - it left the ultimate question of WHY to religion.  That is why at the highest level science and religion are not in opposition to one another.   This website seeks only to give glimpses of the cosmos as revealed by the scientific discoveries of the last 500 years or so. 

The Cosmos is so vast that its immensity lies beyond words and defies our comprehension.  Even our Earth seems enormous by comparison with our ordinary daily lives.  Although our Sun is only one of many trillions of similar stars scattered in the stupendous Universe, it is vast beyond our most elaborate dreams.  Itís true immensity can perhaps be dimly grasped by looking at the diagram that compares our star with the size of the Earth, the planet Jupiter and the orbits of their Moons.

The Universe is Everything, Everywhere and Everywhen

EXCEPT FOR THE MULTIVERSE (See end of Section on Particle Physics)!

Our Sun was born from a great rotating globe of  gas and dust.  When the temperatures of the inner regions reached about 15 million degrees Celsius thermonuclear reactions, involving the 'burning' of hydrogen nuclei to helium 4, began and a star was born    The new born Sun was surrounded by a huge rotating disc of gas and dust and it was from this disc that the planets evolved.  The inner planets consisted mostly of iron and silicate dust.  The third planet was our Earth

A Solar System in the Process of Formation
Acknowledgement Pat Rawlings NASA

Diagram of the Sun. .  Acknowledgement

Joe Leeson Jet Propulsion Laboratory NASA

Star Factories

Our Sun was born in a stellar nursery or star factory set in the depths of interstellar space.   There are many star factories which we can observe today.  The photographs below show pictures of one of the nearest star factories.  Photos taken by the Hubble Telescope Courtesy NASA and ESA.

A star factory which has been extensively studied is the Nebula in Orion.  It is the nearest star forming region to Earth.

The Orion Nebula is a picture book of star formation, from the massive, young stars that are shaping the nebula to the pillars of dense gas that may be the homes of budding stars. The bright central region is the home of the four heftiest stars in the nebula. The stars are collectively called the Trapezium because they are arranged in a trapezoid pattern. Ultraviolet light unleashed by these stars is carving a cavity in the nebula and disrupting the growth of hundreds of smaller stars. Located near the Trapezium stars are stars still young enough to have disks of material encircling them. These disks are called protoplanetary disks or "proplyds" and are too small to see clearly in this image. The disks are the building blocks of solar systems.

The Orion observations were taken between 2004 and 2005

Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Tea

The Orion Nebula, the nearest star-forming region to Earth, is 1,500 light-years away. Astronomers used 520 Hubble images, taken in five colours, to make this picture. They also added ground-based photos to fill out the nebula. The ACS mosaic covers approximately the angular size of the full moon.


Up until the discoveries of the late 1920s using the telescopes at Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar in California all the stars and gas clouds lay in  The Milky Way.  It was only with the observations made using these telescopes that Edwin Hubble and his co-workers realised that the stars were gathered in vast clusters to which they gave the name 'Island Universes'.  The nearest of these appeared to be the great nebula in Andromeda.  It was soon realised that the term island universe was inappropriate and it became obvious that these huge collections of stars and gas made up a TOTAL UNIVERSE whose sheer immensity staggered even the astronomers themselves.  They changed the name of island universe to Galaxy. It was soon realised that the Lesser and Greater Magellanic Clouds were small galaxies of the order of 170,000 light years distant and that the large Galaxy in Andromeda was over two million light years away.  The light from the stars of Andromeda left our 'next-door neighbour' galaxy just before human beings were emerging as a species from Africa.  It was also accepted that the collection of stars with which we were familiar formed a galaxy somewhat smaller than Andromeda and it was this that we called 'The Milky Way Galaxy'.  Andromeda and the Milky Way are known as 'Spiral Galaxies'.  They look like 'Catherine Wheels' and our home is in the Orion Spiral Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.   Although we cannot see our galaxy from the outside we know from the vast number of other galaxies what it must look like to the inhabitants of planets in Andromeda or other 'nearby' galaxies. The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy together with a number of much smaller satellite galaxies such as the Magellanic Clouds make up the Local Cluster.  Eventually they are all destined to collide and combine to make a huge mega-galaxy.

            A Magnificent new picture of The Andromeda Galaxy                                         The Distant Galaxy NGC 3949  A Cousin the Milky Way

                                Credit NASA Spitzer Infra Red View                                                                             Credit Hubble NASA/ESA

 Dr Pauline Barmby and her team using the Spitzer data found that the Andromeda Galaxy

shines with the same amount of energy as about 4 billion suns.

Based on these measurements there are roughly 1 trillion stars in the Andromeda Galaxy.

Whirlpool Galaxy

Sombrero Galaxy


Pinwheel Galaxy

Courtesy Hubble NASA/ESA All these images are in the European Space Agency's Home Page Image Collection

Hubble Deep Field

The Hubble Telescope has been used to probe back into the very distant past .  By selecting a tiny portion of sky where there were hardly any stars it was possible to look back almost to the beginning of time itself -13 billion light years.  Here we are seeing the tiny images of galaxies that existed 3 times as long ago as the Solar System was born.  .  Besides the classical spiral and elliptical shaped galaxies, there is a bewildering variety of other galaxy shapes and colours that are important clues to understanding the evolution of the universe. Some of the galaxies may have formed less that one billion years after the Big Bang.

Photo left hand side Hubble Deep Field North

Photo right hand side Hubble Deep Field South

Courtesy Hubble NASA/ESA All these images are in the European Space Agency's Home Page Image Collection

Credit: Robert Williams and the Hubble Deep Field Team (STScI) and NASA/ESA.

The Deep Field observations were able to see back in time to when the first galaxies were beginning to form.   There are billions of galaxies similar to ours and millions of trillions of stars similar to our Sun and the mind reels in amazement when confronted with the stupendous size of the Universe - it contains more stars than there are grains of sand on all the shores of the Earth.  Many  of these stars will have planets and on some of these planets it seems that some form of life must have evolved.

One hundred years ago all we knew was the restricted view of one galaxy-our own -The Milky Way.  Now we know there are thousands of millions of galaxies like ours all apparently following the same basic natural laws.  Somewhere and somewhen there must be other beings sharing this immense Universe with us and maybe one day we shall find out where they are and when they were  and what they are like or were like.   Life among the Stars may be more abundant and more varied than we can imagine.

It is now believed that our Universe began with an immense 'explosion' we call the BIG BANG.  However the word explosion does not fully explain it, since space and time began in that instant.  Modern hypotheses are being considered as to what happened before the Big Bang. Perhaps there are a huge if not infinite number of Universes and may be they are governed by different physical laws. 

It is now known that there are a number of chemical elements that are made of ATOMS.  However atoms are made of electrons and protons and neutrons.  In their turn protons and neutrons are themselves not simple fundamental particles but are composed of three QUARKS held together by gluons which transmit the strong colour forces and confine the quarks within the protons or neutrons.   Electrons are easily removed from the atom and ions are formed  - when this happens photons are taken in and when electrons combine with ions to form neutral atoms photons are emitted.  It is photons that can cross the immense voids of interstellar space and bring us news of what it is like, not only in our own immediate environment, but also on other planets and in those huge nuclear reactors we call stars.

In the last few years even more amazing discoveries are hinting at other mysteries such as Dark Matter and Dark Energy.  In one section of the web-site we shall discuss these questions and link them with the work being carried out in massive particle accelerators whose aim it is to probe the very nature of matter itself and to lead us into unknown realms.  In Europe, America and Japan machines are operating to find out what matter is made of and what fundamental laws govern the make up of the Universe.

For the moment though we shall leave these deep mysteries till later and start with our own beautiful planet Earth  We shall travel back in time to a past that makes the Age of the Dinosaurs seem like yesteryear - into a past before our world was born from the vast cloud of the debris that orbited our new born Sun. This is dealt with in the next page of this section of the web - 'Earth - The Genesis of a Living World'

Click her for a special feature on European Astrofest 2007


Visions of the Cosmos is divided into a number of web-sites which can be read as separate web-sites in the own right.

1)  Life Among the Stars - this is the home page of 'Visions of the Cosmos'                

2)  Planetary Science and Space Science  (Solar System)     asteroids and meteors

3)  Birth and Evolution of the STARS

4)  The Nature of Matter and Cosmology Particle Physics

5)  Instruments of Science

1) Life Among the Stars

Readers of this web-site are advised to follow the sequence of pages.  Main web-pages are listed on the left hand side of the page

Home page (this page)-Welcome to Visions of the Cosmos

Earth -Genesis of a Living World                            there is a reversible link to Plate Tectonics

The Cambrian Explosion

The History of Earth - the Last 600 million years     there are reversible hyperlinks to  Mary Anning and Mass Extinctions

The Triumph of the Mammals

Extra-solar Planets       there is a reversible hyperlink to SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)

The Nature of Life        there are reversible hyperlinks to  two great scientists van't Hoff and Arrhenius

About the Author

The author Ray Goodwin holds B.Sc. Degrees from the London University in Chemistry, Geology and Physiology and an M.Sc. in Biochemistry and spent most of his professional life teaching in Colleges of Technology.

On his retirement he has entered the field of astronomy, astrochemistry, astrobiology and space sciences.  He has spent a great deal of his retirement in visiting amateur astronomy societies and in attending European Space Agency Symposia in ESTEC in the Netherlands and other scientific conferences in England and Sweden.  He regularly attends the yearly European Astrofest in South Kensington London and other meetings in the UK.  He has written scientific articles and given a number of lectures on diverse scientific subjects

e-mail  raylindwin@yahoo.co.uk

                                                                                                                                  Mobile 07791 02 1944


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