Galactic road map
Dr. Neville Thomas Jones, Ph.D.
Spread over a page and a half and with the outrageously-enormous heading, "YOU ARE HERE!," the Scottish Daily Mail of 17-08-2005 presented a piece by its 'Science Editor', Michael Hanlon.
For those many readers who just look at the pictures and the odd headline or two, there is a very odd headline to accompany an equally odd picture. This headline reads, "Seen here for the first time, a stunning image of our galaxy - and our minuscule place in it."
A rather imprecise statement from the 'Science Editor', because what is presented in the newspaper is not an "image of our galaxy." How could it be? Who has ventured outside of the galaxy? It is, in reality, an artistic impression that has been quite deliberately made to portray the overriding and overbearing cosmological principle that the physical universe is infinitely large and that "we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people" (in the words of the late, well-respected professor of science fiction and atheism, Carl Sagan, 1980).
Part of the image is reproduced as Fig. 1(a) below.
Many and varied are the assumptions that are implicitly interwoven in the fabric of this science fiction drawing. Many, too, are the problems that get swept under the carpet. Let us just briefly consider one of these problems: Olbers' paradox. This states that the night sky ought to be as bright as day, due to the light from other sources that impact upon the World. Certainly the centre of this monstrous 'galaxy' would set the night sky ablaze with light and x-rays — if it really existed. For, according to "one of the scientists responsible for this picture," Prof. Ed Churchwell, there are "billions" of stars in a bar-like "corridor down which matter falls into the gaping maw of the [huge] black hole." As shown by Prof. Stephen Hawking, matter spiralling down into a black hole would generate radiation in the form of x-rays. We poor earthlings would thus be bombarded with light and zapped by x-rays from this black hole ("thought to weigh as much as a million Suns" - Hanlon). The combined facts of dark night skies and overall lack of radiation sickness amongst the populace tends therefore to rule out Fig. 1(a) as depicting reality.
Mr. Hanlon is obviously unaware of these trifling inconveniences and also the extent of artistic licence that can be invoked to produce such fictitious pictures, but he does treat his readers to some excellent 'science' instead, claiming that "truth, as ever in astronomy, is far stranger than fiction." Adding, "that the billions of stars you see here may be home to countless life forms and civilisations, each pondering the majesty of creation in their own way.
"Maybe they have their own telescopes, and have produced their own 'you are here' maps. Maybe they have their own legends to that [sic] explain the existence of their galaxies.
"But however alien they may be, however many arms, or tentacles or heads they have, and however advanced their civilisation may be compared to ours, they will have one thing in common with us: they live in our town. Now we have a map. Maybe, before too long, we will get to meet our neighbours."
Yes, far stranger indeed, Mr. Hanlon. Can't argue with that one.
Figure 1(a) is a drawing produced by American scientists using data purportedly produced by NASA's Spitzer infrared space telescope. Figure 1(b) was produced by myself using the highly scientific package Paint Shop Pro on a NA'SSA computer. It does not indicate in the Scottish Daily Mail article how long these American scientists took to produce their fantasy image, but my more detailed fantasy image took me all of 15 minutes from start to finish.
Both of these quaint little pictures have one thing in common, though: they're both nonsense.
The World we live on is not "insignificant," nor is it a "planet," but rather it is Hell.