Today’s ‘Galaxy’ Insight –“The Universe is a Green Dragon”





"I call the universe a green dragon because I want to avoid lulling you into thinking we can have the universe in our grasp, like a stray dog shut up in its kennel. I want to remind us of this proper relationship as we approach the Whole of Things.

"On the other hand – and here is a second reason for the green dragon – we have learned things in our scientific explorations that completely transform our understanding of the universe. Our revolution in thinking dwarfs Copernicus’s announcement that the Earth travels around the Sun. It is outrageous to compare the universe to a green dragon, I know, but I hope this will express some of my astonishment at what we now know about the universe. The inadequacy of the dragon image is that green dragons are much too commonplace to indicate the radical nature of what we have learned. That’s how limited our language is.

"Most amazing is this realization that everything that exists in the universe came from a common origin. The material of your body and the material of my body are intrinsically related because they emerged from and are caught up in a single energetic event. Our ancestry stretches back through the life forms and into the stars, back to the beginnings of the primeval fireball. This universe is a single multiform energetic unfolding of matter, mind, intelligence, and life. And all of this is new. None of the great figures of human history were aware of this. Not Plato, or Aristotle, or the Hebrew Prophets, or Confucius, or Thomas Aquinas, or Leibniz, or Newton, or any other world-maker. We are the first generation to live with an empirical view of the origin of the universe. We are the first humans to look into the night sky and see the birth of stars, the birth of galaxies, the birth of the cosmos as a whole. Our future as a species will be forged within this new story of the world."

Brian Swimme, evolutionary cosmologist and author of books on the religious aspects of cosmology, including The Journey of the Universe (Yale University, 2011).


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The Spitzer infrared image at the top of the page has revealed that a dark dragon-shaped cloud called M17 SWex, is forming stars at a furious rate but has not yet spawned the most massive type of stars, known as O stars. Such stellar behemoths, however, light up the M17 nebula at the image's center and have also blown a huge "bubble" in the gas and dust that forms M17's luminous left edge.

The stars and gas in this region are now passing though the Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way (moving from right to left), touching off a galactic "domino effect." The youngest episode of star formation is playing out inside the dusty dragon as it enters the spiral arm. Over time, this area will flare up like the bright M17 nebula, glowing in the light of young massive stars. An older burst of star formation blew the bubble seen in the region to the far left, called M17 EB.

The visible-light view of the area clearly shows the bright M17 nebula, as well as the glowing hot gas filling the "bubble" to its left. However the M17 SWex "dragon" is hidden within dust clouds that are opaque to visible light. It takes an infrared view to catch the light from these shrouded regions and reveal the earliest stages of star formation.


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