Monday, May 5, 2014

Cosmic winds, light, echoes (video)

Amber Larson (ed.), Wisdom Quarterly; Nadia Drake (Phenomena, NatGeo, May 5, 2014)

Light echoes act as astronomical time machines or portals to the past.

On Earth, echoes are produced when sound waves bounce around like pinballs. In space, echoes are produced when light does the bouncing.
Just as sounds can echo -- so, too, can cosmic light. But instead of ricocheting off damp cavern walls, light traveling through the universe bounces off soft, dusty clouds.
Sometimes, this happens after an explosive event such a supernova. On Earth, most of the light we’d see from one of these exploding stars would have come directly here. But supernovas explode in three dimensions, sending light in all directions. Not all of that light is aimed toward Earth. If the geometry is right, some of the light... More
SUTRA: In the Sky
Nyanaponika Thera (trans.) Akasa Sutta (1) (SN 36.12); Dhr. Seven (ed.), Wisdom Quarterly
"In the sky, O meditators, various kinds of [solar, cosmic, magnetic] winds are blowing: winds from the east, west, north and south, winds carrying dust and winds without dust, winds hot and cold, gentle and fierce.
  • ["Wind" or vayo (prana, chi, spiritus) is regarded as the source of movement, the invisible animating principle as it were, in the body.]
"Similarly, meditators, there arise in this body various kinds of feelings: pleasant feelings arise, painful feelings arise, and neutral feelings arise."
Illusion of expanding dust cloud (NASA/ESA/H.E.Bond)
Just as in the sky above winds of various kinds are blowing:
Coming from the east or west, moving from the north or south,
Some carry dust and others not, cold are some and others hot,
Some are fierce and others mild -- their varied moving style.
So also in this body here, feelings of different kind arise:
The pleasant feelings and the painful and the neutral ones.
But if a meditator is vigilant and persistent
To practice mindfulness and comprehension clear,
The nature of all feelings will one understand,
And having penetrated them, one will be taint-free in this very life.
Mature in knowledge, firm in Dharma's ways,
Then once one's lifespan ends, this body breaks,
And all measure and concept one has transcended.
[This last line is an allusion to nirvana.]

Drake is a science journalist. Phenomena is her space to talk about space -- from other worlds to exploding stars to the fabric of time and the universe. Her work has also appeared in Science News, Nature, New Scientist, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and WIRED. She lives in beautiful, foggy San Francisco.

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