Saturday, November 7, 2009


Let me introduce you to Cassiopeia A.

Isn't she beautiful? Too bad, she's dead, eh? She is a supernova remnant, the remains of a star, very much like our sun, that died a dramatic death about 11,000 years ago (though we only received word of her passing in 1680).

Not only is she beautiful, she is is mysterious, too. She first flirted with occupants on our planet as she died about 330 years ago. She briefly flashed her light and caught the attention of English astronomer James Flamsteed, but then she coquettishly disappeared, hiding for centuries behind a veil of cosmic dust.

Then in 1999, NASA launched the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and we got to see the beauty behind the veil, since the x-rays she radiates can penetrate the cloak in which she had shrouded herself. The first Chandra image released to the public revealed Cas A's tremendous beauty, and further intrigued scientists with her enigmatic personality. She obviously didn't want to be fully known, and she refused to divulge secrets of the very nature of her being. Was she a neutron star? A black hole? Nobody could figure her out; she defied all expectations.

For ten years, she continued to tease, extending her enigmatic nature. She closely guarded the jewel at the center of her being, and remained taciturn when it came to revealing her secrets. Then in the summer of 2009, she allowed herself to be known as she permitted two brilliant scientists to unravel her mystery, and through various investigations, to uncover her identity as a recently deceased star, in a sarcophagus adorned with diamonds. (In other words, she's a young neutron star with a carbon atmosphere.)

I tell you of this rare, mysterious beauty because Cas A has been a guest in our lives for the past few months, and I feel as if I have gotten to know her quite well. You see, my Beloved is one of the two brilliant, young astronomers to whom Cas A has chosen to reveal herself. He and his collaborator have been studying her and trying to discern her seemingly impenetrable nature. And the revelations of Cas A's true nature have now been published in the journal Nature.

And now, my Beloved is a star. Not a dead one to be studied. But a living one, to be interviewed. He's on TV and the radio, in our local paper, and various media around the globe. It's been a fun week watching him shine.

1 comment:

  1. yay stars! and big congrats to Craig - that's very exciting news getting a nature paper and press :) Looking forward to reading the paper...