Universal BeautyThe power, design, and beauty existing is this photograph create tremendous emotions within me as I wonder about the vastness and mystery of the universe. The Butterfly Nebula, located in our Milky Way galaxy, is about 3,800 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius. The indescribable allure of the beautiful creation goes without saying. One look at the photograph is enough to fuel the imagination with wonder.
Photo by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
The Hubble Space Telescope is once again sending great images of space back to Earth after a repair mission in May. Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis installed and fixed cameras and repaired electronics. NASA scientists expect the multi-billion dollar telescope to continue to take photographs until at least 2014. This photograph was taken during the repair process and were released on September 9, 2009. The "wings" of the nebula are made of gas heated to more than 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit and there is a dying star at its center. Stars usually create their most artistic displays as they die. The "Butterfly" is more than 2 light-years across. One light year is 5,865,696,000,000 miles. The primary component of this binary is the hot core of a star that reached the end of its main-sequence life cycle, ejected most of its outer layers and became a red giant, a luminous giant star, and is now contracting into a white dwarf, a very dense star whose volume is comparable to that of the earth. It is believed to have been a sun-like star early in its life. The second, smaller star of the binary orbits very closely and may even have been engulfed by the other's expanding stellar atmosphere with the resulting interaction creating the nebula.
Natural BeautyNow, compare and contrast the beauty of the Universe with the natural world on earth. A photograph of the namesake for the nebula is equally breathtaking -- the butterfly. Such a common and small creature is a marvel, a complicated work of three distinct morphological stages. Sometimes their colors bright and intended to warn away potential predators. Other times their brilliant colors are meant to attract mates. While some species are active pollinators, they also provide food for many other animals.
This butterfly's name refers to the extensions on the hind-wings which look rather like a swallow's tail. These "tails" and false "eyes" on the hind-wing mimic the head and antennae (feelers) of the butterfly. This confuses birds as to the true head of their prey and gives the swallowtail a better chance of escaping. Swallowtails differ from all other butterflies in a number of anatomical traits. Most notably, their caterpillars possess a unique organ behind their heads, called the osmeterium. Normally hidden, this forked structure can be everted (turned inside out) when the caterpillar is threatened, and emits smelly secretions containing terpenes. Unique in growth comparison, if a human baby weighed 9 pounds at birth and grew at the same rate as a caterpillar, it would weigh 243,000 pounds when fully grown. The butterfly has served as a metaphor of hope and the longed for spiritual transformation of the soul as well as the transformation of the body. For instance, among the Temne people of Sierra Leone, West Africa, the butterfly, particularly Dana chrysippus, is associated with the moon as its life cycle is approximately one month. In many cultures the butterfly is associated with the feminine. The delicate nature, graceful flight, and colorful beauty of the butterfly seems to have led it to become associated with the graceful walk and "painted" or "made-up" nature of women in many cultures, including the geisha. Myth and legend are popular dwellings for the butterfly. Xochiquetzal, the Aztec goddess of beauty represented the Western Tiger Swallowtail, which is a common Mexican butterfly. According to research by Michael Sones, "In Aztec myth Tezcatlipoca,the god of night, kidnapped her because she was so beautiful. She became the goddess of love. Her name means 'Precious feather flower' and links both the beauty of birds, flowers and women. She symbolized beauty, fire, and the spirits of the dead. She was the patron goddess of warriors and followed the young men into battle having intercourse with them, a butterfly in her lips, at the moment of their deaths. (Michael Sones, "The Butterfly," www.beautyworlds.com, January 2004) Xochiquetzal