The history of elements in the universe, quasar absorption lines, and star formation

The Eagle Nebula is a star-forming cloud of interstellar dust and gas 7,000 light years from Earth. Parts of the nebula resemble an array of towering columns, fumes of hydrogen gas spanning light years, filled with stars boiling into existence through photoevaporation.

While photographic images of the nebula are gorgeous, the scale and complexity represented in these images are reduced by our image-based culture to another pleasant prismatic display, drowned in a vast ocean of other screen-based audiovisual extravaganzas. Furthermore, these images of the nebula are themselves compressed by unimaginable distance, color enhancement, shifting non-visible spectra into the relatively narrow range of visible light, or the even smaller subset of printable color…

When we look at an image of the nebula, we are not seeing are not how the nebula “really” looks, but rather a complex metaphorical representation. We hope to challenge the widespread assumption of the Eagle Nebula — and other natural phenomena — as mere visual spectacles, and in turn, ask viewers to consider the metaphorical nature of the most seemingly realistic rendering of data.

In conjunction with Mach Infinity, our floral planetarium installation, Dr. Penprase will be presenting a talk on the interstellar medium, convering such topics as what the universe is made of, how stars are formed, and how astronomers determine what’s going on way out there.

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