Photo Quiz Answer: The structures (approximately actual size) in the photo are called Benard cells. You are looking down on a shallow layer of mineral oil in a glass container. The oil has been dusted with a fine powder that reveals the cells. The oil is being heated uniformly from below, and the cells are upwelling heat energy from below and dispersing it to the surroundings above. These cells form as if by magic. They represent the best pathway available for distributing and dispersing the heat energy being pumped into the oil. This self-ordering is an expression of our cosmic connection: Matter and energy work together to produce ordered dynamic structures that disperse energy, and often matter, in the best way possible.
To explore our cosmic theme a bit further let's consider something a little more familiar than Benard cells—a candle flame. We know what happens when we light a candle. Once started, a flame evolves in seconds into a form that all of us recognize. We may start the process with a match, but the flame quickly organizes all by itself. We know what happens, and it happens for the same reason that Benard cells appear. The flame is the best way of spreading out the matter and energy that are tightly packaged in the wax and wick of the candle. The solid candle is transformed into gases and the energy contained in the candle are dispersed as heat and light. But, it reasonable to ask how all this connects to the cosmos and life in the cosmos?
Take a look at this photograph, called the Pillars of Creation, taken by the Hubble telescope. These are gigantic clouds of cosmic dust that contain enormous amounts of matter and energy, very much like a candle, only on an entirely different scale. (Even at warp-speed, it could take Captain Kirk's Enterprise years to travel from the bottom to the top of these clouds.) But, no matter the scale, the clouds are expressing the same theme as a candle flame! Stars are being born within them, and, just as in candle flames, stars are the best way of dispersing energy. Around some of these stars planets will form, and some of those may well be life friendly. Eventually some of those planets may produce new civilizations.
We see the dust and its potential. But, where did the dust come from and what's in it? That we will discuss next.
In the meantime: Can you identify what this photo is showing?
This is a photo taken by the Hubble telescope. What are they and how do they express the cosmic theme?
(c)2009 R. E. Morel