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Friday, 9 September 2011

Supernova, Peaking: We owe these fiery monsters everything

Supernova SN 2011fe (initially designated PTF 11kly) in the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101), peaking on 7/8 September 2011: photo by BJ Fulton/Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network

You wouldn't want one for a close neighbour -- at their fiercest, they can be five billion times brighter than the sun -- but supernovae, briefly capable of outshining an entire galaxy, have in the past 400 years lit up our universe. Tycho's nova or new star, recorded in 1573, was the first direct evidence that the heavens were not immutable. Kepler's supernova in 1604 was visible even by daylight. Both served as beacons to signal the scientific revolution. The latest candidate for supernova celebrity –- provisionally called PTF 11kly -- is blazing in the Pinwheel Galaxy, 21m light years away: it has already earned its place in history, if only because astronomers caught the explosion within hours of its commencement, and are now fiercely measuring every stage of its bright but brief convulsion. This is a Type 1a supernova, and such puzzling celestial fireworks have served as "standard candles" to measure the rate at which the universe is expanding: if you know exactly how bright such a star ought to be, you can make a good guess, from its dimness, at its distance. Supernovae are, so far, science's best explanation for the heavy elements: everything from helium to iron is known to have been forged from hydrogen in the thermonuclear furnaces of ordinary stars. But gold, lead or uranium require something much fiercer, and supernovae are the best candidates for such alchemy. If so, we owe these fiery monsters everything, including the fabric of the planet from which we observe them.
-- The Guardian, 8 September 2011
"The best view of this exploding star is likely to be this Wednesday or Thursday. Look for it just after evening twilight near the ‘handle’ of ‘The Plough’," said Dr Mark Sullivan of Oxford University’s Department of Physics. "Whilst it looks more or less like just another bright star, unlike its companions this supernova will soon fade away, and after a few days it will only be visible with larger telescopes."
The discovery of the supernova is particularly important because it is a type 1a supernova –- the kind used by scientists to measure the expansion of the Universe.
Dr Sullivan added: "For many people it could be a once in a lifetime chance to see a supernova of this kind blossom and then fade before their eyes; we may not see another one like it for another forty, or perhaps over a hundred, years!"
-- Oxford University Astrophysics, 7 September 2011

Pinwheel Galaxy (M101): image by NASA/ESA/Hubble Space Telescope, 28 February 2006 (NASA)

The entire universe is composed of stellar systems. In order to create them nature has only one hundred simple bodies at its disposal. Despite the prodigious profit it knows how to make from its resources, and the incalculable number of combinations these allow its fecundity, the result is necessarily a finite number, like that of the elements themselves. And in order to fill the entire expanse nature must infinitely repeat each of its original or generic combinations.
Every star, whatever it might be, thus exists in infinite number in time and space, not only in one of its aspects, but as it is found in every second of its duration, from birth until death. All the beings spread across its surface, big or little, animate or inanimate, share in this privilege of perennity.
The earth is one of these stars. Every human being is thus eternal in every second of its existence. What I write now in a cell in the fort of Taureau I wrote and will write under the same circumstances for all of eternity, on a table, with a pen, wearing clothing. And so for all.
-- Louis Auguste Blanqui, L'éternité par les astres, Librairie Germer Bailliére, 1872, Paris; trans. Mitch Abidor

File:The sun1.jpg
The sun, as seen from the surface of earth through a camera lens: photo by Lykaestria, 2005

He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

-- William Blake: from Proverbs of Hell, c. 1789



Tom, Tom, you see the Supernova Everythingability leads to what I wish to bring up, we decided at Bernadette Mayers's discussion rodeo that blurbs are rubbish, preening presumptions, but now that it's too late I wish I had at least sent you my manuscript for Theremin before its upcoming publication. I mean pretty much the whole book wouldn't exist without you.

Do you remember a red-wine inspired discussion at Owen's where you mentioned the metaphor of a vacuum cleaner for process of the mind vis a via the contents of dreams. I wrote this about it:


if I dreamt I dropped
like a spinning ankh into fire,
I’d be embarrassed
the symbols were like cheap candy,
I know the Easter Bunny
rises like the phoenix,
smudgy ashes ruining the soft
fur I like to pet,
dreams comb together the split
ends of our collective unconsciousness,
or a peek in the dirt bag
of the vacuum cleaner for thoughts
we forgot to think,
the earl of sandwich nightmared
of islands not food, bucky fuller
dreamt standing up like a horse
of geodesic corrals,
in all my dreams I’m lucid
like a person with rent money.

then there's this one


(for t.c.)

the problematic glee of naming
frissons along
like a cruise past the forgotten
projects of your childhood
life gives us decisions too
few but realize this
is not the process
expecting death to come any month
for decades on end was either a curse
with unlimited gifts of grace and awareness
or a blessing filled with pain and remorse
the Black Sea tolerates
frolicking on its edges
the skimming of its surf
as the sailing over of its depths
that’s beach life with its stasis
endless bodies facing baking
temperatures and blinding rays
the lulling effects
of wave sound and action:
the purgatory that forgot heaven,
really quite pleasant

Ukrainian Crimea, 1997

So what to do? What's a gilded dust jacket next to a supernova, but what's poetry without the mention?

Ed Baker said...

Blanqui's: "eternal in every second of its existence"

I really like that !... & the 'no bout a doubt it' posture of

&also Blake's "eternity is in love with the productions of time"

let's see:

full moon
just so
these seventy years

I also like "the Pinwheel Galaxy" is our (present) moon & we int that one?
or are we in the Pinhead Galaxy ?

ACravan said...

It would be difficult to say how much I loved all of this and, particularly, reading the excerpt from Blanqui, which I've followed up on already and will pursue some more. The Wikipedia article on Blanquism contains the sentence: "It is rare for anyone to adopt 'Blanquism' as an appropriate description of their own beliefs", which makes the subject rather appealing. Curtis

Ed Baker said...

this guy (Louis-Auguste Blanqui)
was SMART ! try this:

lots of his "stuff" on this site .. The Blanqui Archive....


another in my old age discovery for me sure wish that I had known his "stuff" (& his passion) back in 1963 or 64

seems like he spent most of his life jailed

I like his observation re: how Napoleon gained power:

"Napoleon gave them bread instead of freedom"

that's a fundamental of all missionaries both political and religious ....

'feed the hungry and the poor and they will embrace our 'Bills of Goods'

and if that fails we'll fallback on that
"Might Makes Right"

and a lot of fear-mongering to thicken the soup.

Blanqui a discovery for me. thanks....

maybe it is time again to revisit 19 th and twentieth century French Culture

all of it

Ed Baker said...

here is another bit of his writing:

a coincidence that in my previous 'off the wall' comment I wrote

"to thicken the soup"

though he spells it "soupe"

so, the bowl AND the liquid that is in the bowl both are .... feminine ?



Star light, star bright, but not even PTF 11kly's fiery light could penetrate the fog that hangs here these nights. . . .


light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, drop falling from cypress branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

letters selected, record of
version after picture

is thinking, in order to be
possible, about which

grey white of fog reflected in channel,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

TC said...

Out of a supernova we came and back into its ashbin we will soon enough be sorted, but our doubles will still be out there, or in there, inside the ashbin, in an infinite multiverse of galaxies, with us. Or so I take it from the heroic lunacy that is the cosmic philosophy of Blanqui.

I have long found that philosophy strangely securing, inexplicably consoling.

Perhaps only a small child lost by its mother in the chaos of a big department store would be able to understand the acute separation anxiety that attacks me on any day I am forced to spend apart from my Blanqui.

Ed Baker said...

might as well
Stone Girl
up any handy hill

and the bliss of
her descendent roll-down:

I think that
I am in love with a rock

"the infinite multiversity of galaxies, with us"

and how you've re:called the Muse ?


my mother always says "no reply is a stern comment"

TC said...


Soft fur and the forgotten projects of childhood are beautiful clues to the insoluble mystery of every wise thing our mothers probably told us but we seem to have forgotten... and this perhaps explains the endlessness of the search for one's lost blanqui... if you get what I mean.