Saturday 15 August 2020

The Eye

by Henry Lewi

Solar Eclipse Black Martini

The last time the eye blinked was 35 years ago.

The first time he’d studied the Helix Nebula (or NGC7293 as it was officially classified), was when he was a 25-year-old grad student working on his PhD thesis titled “Spectroscopic Analysis of The Expansion Rate of The Outer Rings of NGC7293”. In simple terms he was analysing the growth rate of the Nebula. He’d continued to study and photograph the Nebula every day (well almost), for the last 35 years.  What made it so special? Simply put, the Nebula looked like an eye and had been nicknamed by the media as ‘the eye of god’ or ‘the eye of Sauron’ but the names were simply that, a nickname.  In truth, the Helix Nebula was just a simple planetary Nebula with a dying star at its core. The hot dense core giving off intense radiation is thought to be responsible the appearance of the Nebula as an eye. 

Thirty-five years ago, as a young grad student he’d been convinced that the eye had blinked, but did he tell anybody or publish it, not on your life! He’d have been subjected to ridicule, his career terminated, and PhD binned. Nevertheless, his fascination with the Nebula had remained and he continued to monitor and study the “Eye” as he called it, throughout his academic life.
Now as professor of astrophysics at one of the most reputable Universities in the US, he had his own team of students, that continued to study, measure and monitor the Nebula. The department had access to not just the Hubble telescope, but also NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (for infra-red analysis), the Galaxy Evolution Explorer for Ultraviolet emissions and a whole array of spectroscopic and radio telescopes.

His team excitedly reported that the eye had appeared to blink – No, there was no evidence of cosmic dust – No, there was no apparent change in temperature differentials –No, the central core had not imploded, or exploded, and No there were no changes in the spectroscopic analysis. Infra-red photography clearly showed that the Helix Nebula had appeared to blink. Other Astrophysics departments began to confirm the team’s findings, surely there was a scientific explanation for this, or was this just an Astronomical Anomaly?

As the sudden massive burst of Solar Radiation burnt out all the electronics on Earth he wondered, truly, did the eye of god really blink?
Now he would never know.

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