Saturday, December 9, 2006

36)Signs('Ayats') in the Universe: Astronomy.

Galaxies in the far corners of the universe are not static structures. They move about and sometimes approach one another. Here is an amazing picture of two galaxies that have collided with each other:

It is amazing how the mass of an object and the force of gravity determine much of what goes on in the universe. The force of gravity was the first force to seperate out from the unified force-matter matrix in the earliest moments of the universe after the big bang:

This is a spectacular picture of a spiral galaxy, called M81, which is 11.8 million light years away from earth and is comparable in size to the spiral galaxy in which our solar system and our earth is found, the Milky Way. In terms of kilometers, 11.8 million light years equals 118 with 17 zeroes in front of it, kilometers distance between the earth and this spiral galaxy. That is 11,800,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers, a number impossible to imagine or conceptualize. In his recent speech to students at the convocation of the American University of Cairo, Mowlana Hazar Imam talked about how Astronomy was one of the sciences that muslims excelled at during the glorious period in Islam. With what we know of Astronomy today, I would call it the science of humility because when one looks at the vast, mind-boggling distances and sizes encountered in space, I can only conclude that the science of Astronomy exists to teach us one thing mainly: humility in the face of the Universal Soul, which, in the language of philosophical Ismailism, fashions the material universe based on inspiration it receives from Universal Intellect, which was the only thing to issue, by a process of origination, from the Absolutely Transcendent Originator through the Divine Command:

This is a surreal picture of the sun, which looks like a Picasso painting, using a telescope that measures only ultraviolet light being emitted by the sun. Only UV light coming from the most active regions of the sun is visible in this picture and that is why the rest of the sun appears dark:

Contrast this picture to a picture of the sun I posted earlier that shows the sun using a telescope that measures visible light and not ultraviolet light:

The sun has its own dynamic 11-year cycle in which changes occur both on its surface as well as inside it. This often has an effect on the earth and other planets, though in subtle rather than overt ways. All the natural chemical elements found in the universe and on earth are created inside the sun and other stars through the process of nuclear fusion. In the early universe(but even now), these elements were flung accross the cosmos by exploding stars pregnant with such elements(called supernovae). Today, there is an average of one supernova explosion in our galaxy every 50 years. They then reached the earth through the process of heavy bombardment by meteorites, comets and other debris and objects that characterised earth's early history. The earth's crust(outer layer) is made up of elements like silicon, magnesium and iron while living beings are made up of organic molecules consisting of elements like carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and a few others. All these elements come from the insides of stars through the process of nuclear fusion. As the late, great astronomer Carl Sagan once said: "We are all made of stardust". Here is a picture of the sun in one of its dynamic moments in which it looks like it is throwing up:

An artist's rendition showing cosmic rays from the sun and other stars hitting the earth. Cosmic rays have been shown to consist of atomic nuclei of the elements hydrogen, helium and a few other heavier elements(atomic nuclei consist of the full atoms minus the electons, ie, only the parts containing protons and neutrons). The contents of cosmic rays give credence to the idea that all elements found on earth come originally from the insides of stars and reach us by the process of bombardment:

This is a glorious green picture that one sees sometimes during an Aurora at one of the earth's magnetic poles. Energetic particles from the sun interact with the earth's magnetic field, causing the resultant high energy atomic particles like protons and electrons to rain down at the earth's magnetic poles. When these highly energetic particles impact air molecules, they cause the air molecules to lose electrons temporarily. Among the air molecules, when oxygen in particular re-acquires these electrons, they emit the green light you see in this awesome picture:

These pictures show that the sun emits different types of radiation, reflecting different energies and wavelengths. All of this is a prelude to a future post by me that will talk about a remarkable event in nature in which the sun and its radiation play a pivotal role. This sequential event in nature is itself one of God's ayats or signs but it may also lend itself to symbolic or allegorical interpretation, dealing with issues of illumination leading to spiritual nourishment, transformation and growth in the search for timeless, instantaneous intellect.

We often hear about hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones that occur from time to time in different parts of the earth. In my part of the world, we are most familiar with hurricanes that gather strength coming from east to west accross the Atlantic ocean and then hit the Carribbean islands and/or the U.S. mainland. Occasionally, they travel up the eastern seaboard and affect us here in Canada as well. I am not aware of a hurricane that has enveloped the entire earth although, who knows, with global warming, we may yet see that happen, heaven forbid. The following picture from NASA shows two spots on the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is one thousand times as big as our earth and the two spots represent two hurricanes, each one of which is larger than the earth in size. The big spot represents a hurricane that has been raging continuously for over 300 years:

Here is a picture of the moon showing its clearly pockmarked surface:
The clarity of all those pockmarks on the moon reveals how undynamic the moon and its surface are and, by contrast, infers the dynamicity of the earth's surface. Both the earth and moon were subject to the same heavy bombardment by foreign objects like asteroids, meteors, comets and other debris in the early universe but, today, only the moon shows clear evidence of that heavy bombardment with all those pockmarks.

This is a picture of the western sky that shows the crescent moon in the bottom right hand area and many stars. If you place your mouse over the stars, an outline will appear that shows which constellations many of these stars belong to. Two of the names, Betelgeuse and Aldeberan, are Arabic names of constellations and are an apt reflection of the immense contribution of Muslim civilization to Astronomy during the golden era of science in Islam, an era that was gradually brought to an end by the straitjacket imposed by Islamic orthodoxy on the acquisition of rational knowledge:


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3