Sunday, April 25, 2010

Nature's life forces with your breakfast read

Living beneath the Icelandic volcano

Spirals of dust swirl about star V838 Mon. across trillions of kilometres of interstellar space, 20,000 light years from Earth. NASA

The pollen from a mallow flower. It's spines help it cling to bird's feathers.
Micronaut, supported by Pruftechnik Uri GmbH

Those awesome pictures at the very heart of the volcano I brought to you in the previous post drew an eruption of comments from around the world. The Boston Globe site was engulfed by over 7,346 of them in many languages. They also make fascinating reading, if you have the time. (click on the link if you want to read them.)

All interpreted them differently, as you would expect from such a diverse audience.

Some ‘saw’ the face of Jesus in the cloud, of course. Some praised Allah. Others praised the farmers who struggled on under its emissions. Many feared for the animals wandering lost in the darkness. The cynics dealt with it through corny jokes such as, “where are the virgins when we need them for sacrifice.”

All were stunned by the magnitude of Nature.

For myself, I was also thankful for the skills of the photographers and the brilliance of the modern equipment that made it happen, as you might expect given my background. Modern image technologies bring us closer to Nature. Using it we can try to understand the forces that go into evolving life itself. With the volcano it was lava landscape gardening the Earth.

This week two more brilliant sets of images showing life’s evolutionary forces were published. Each as different as they were similar. Firstly, NASA celebrated 20 years of the Hubble telescope with a release of some of its work. Secondly, the advent of Spring hay fever allowed the brilliant Dr Martin Oeggerli to show us close up one of the culprits causing it, using a Scanning Electron Microscope.

NASA’s Hubble is now an old lady, having been in space for 20 years. Dr Martin Oeggerli received his first camera from his dad only in 2004. Martin’s day job is in the University of Basel Pathology department in Switzerland, doing cancer research work. Hooked on photography he began using his own techniques to colour interpret the wonderful close-ups created there by the Electron Microscope. Now he is a world leader in the art with a company called Micronaut and many exhibitions. Chances are, if you see a close-up of some bug or micro specimen it is Martin’s work.

To me these two diverse images share a common bond. They are the use of science technology to reveal the beginnings of life itself. The pollen in creating the flower. The solar system in creating the stars on which life can live. And that is thanks to the skilled people who use it.

This brings me full circle to the volcano pictures.

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