Tri-Color Hubble Deep Sky Image

Eagle Nebula- "The Pillars of Life"

Eagle Nebula- “The Pillars of Life”

This is a tri-color deep sky image taken of the Eagle Nebula by the Hubble Space Telescope. While the picture itself is amazing, as is the story behind what is in it, what is really cool is how this picture was made. When Hubble takes deep sky images, such as the one above, it is actually taking multiple images using different filters for different wavelengths of light. So all of the different images the telescope takes look slightly different. Since these filtered images are actually black and white, Photoshop or a similar photo editing program is used to create the amazing, colorful images we see of deep space objects.

First, a program called FITS Liberator is used to fine tune the raw, black and white, Hubble image and adjust brightness, etc. In this case, I used three raw images, which were then opened in Photoshop as three different layers of the same image. Once in Photoshop, color (RGB, as the human eye sees color) is added to the images according to their respective wavelengths, meaning the image of the longest wavelength is red, and the shortest blue. Once the images are layered and colors fine- tuned, the three raw images become a colorful finished product. This really is quite and easy process, although I’m sure practice wouldn’t hurt, and anyone can do it!

The “Pillars of Life” are part of the Eagle Nebula in the Milky Way Galaxy. The light shining out of this nebula is caused by ultraviolet radiation, the result of new star formation in the vicinity. Before I mentioned each raw image showing different wavelengths of light, and in the colored images, each color represents the different substances present in the nebula. The sections of the nebula shown in green represent hydrogen atoms, the red is sulfur ions, and the blue is doubly-ionized oxygen. Although some of these colors do not represent the true emitted light from certain substances, it creates an image in which the substances are more easily told apart, as well as enhances the overall detail. The above image shows darker colors surrounding the pillars, indicating the presence of hydrogen and oxygen, while the pillars themselves are largely lighter, reddish hues, indicating sulfur. This nebula is an area of very active star production. The “Pillars” are clouds of gas and dust that essentially act as incubators for new stars. The denser knobs are called EGGs (Evaporating Gaseous Globules), and star formation is occurring in many of these. I find it interesting that even on such an astronomical scale, we still equate the progression of stars to the life we know and the occurrence of evolution and life here on Earth.


NASA, ESA, STScl, J. Hester, and P. Scowen. “Embryonic Stars Emerge from Interstellar “Eggs”” HubbleSite. STScl, NASA, 2 Nov. 1995. Web. 11 Sept. 2013.

“Eagle Nebula.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Sept. 2013.

Raw images from:



Prometheus, in its most basic form, is a film about a group of scientists who go to a distant moon in search of their creators, in search of the origin of human life. While they do find this, it doesn’t quite stop there. They discover that their creators (called “the Engineers“) had planned to destroy humans for reasons unknown, but had fallen victim to their own weapon/ creation before they could do so. While this may sound like a typical science- fiction movie, there is much, much more at play which has led to incredible amounts of debate upon the messages, themes, and occasionally, science, in a film which seems to ask lots of cultural and philosophical questions without giving much of an answer.

As this is a science course, I’ll start with the scientific aspects of the film and their implications. For the most part, the science in Prometheus is very accurate. That being said, it is based in the 2090’s, so naturally there is technology present that is beyond what we currently have. But the planetary science, such as finding traces of life on a moon orbiting a large, gaseous planet, or finding conditions similar, but not identical, to those on Earth, is believable. One of the largest scientific debates is over the “black liquid” that appears throughout the film and appears to be the rudimentary weapon that the Engineers had planned to use to eliminate humans.

During the course of the film, we see this liquid in many different settings, and the effects that it has on people, or other organisms, seems to vary. There are many hypotheses for the nature of this liquid, but two that make sense in my opinion. The first is that it takes on the traits of whatever organism it comes into contact with by infecting and mutating the DNA of that organism. At the start, it is just a mysterious liquid that begins to bubble out of the above canisters when the scientists enter the room, suggesting possible instability that could have led to the overrunning of the Engineers. As the movie goes on, the form that the liquid and its creations take on are of an increasingly evolved state. I could go on forever describing each evolutionary instance and thoughts on the nature of the liquid, but for now I think it will suffice to say that the two main ideas are that 1) the liquid uses the genetic material and traits of whatever host it infects to create a more evolved offspring, and 2) the liquid mirrors the emotions and intentions of whatever host it affects and creates an evolved offspring that embodies those emotions. One example of this is the opening scene, in which we see an Engineer on a desolate planet (presumably early Earth) voluntarily drink this liquid, in apparent self- sacrifice. The liquid breaks down his DNA into the building blocks of human life. When one of the scientists later in the film also ingests the liquid, he turns into a murderous creature somewhat resembling himself. Another strong example of this idea is in the very last scene, when we see the body of an infected Engineer who was trying to kill Shaw, his intentions and emotions extremely malevolent. A creature very closely resembling the modern Alien xenomorph then bursts from his chest. Anyone who has seen the Alien movies knows these creatures to be extremely malevolent and bloodthirsty, so this lends credence to the mirrored- emotion hypothesis.

So that’s the science. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg. As we begin to turn towards cultural and religious themes, we start to see the real debates unfold. Among many others, a few of the main themes are the idea of God and belief and the importance of humans in the universe. There are many details in the film that lead us to question where, and if, God comes into the picture. Obviously there is strong symbolism in that the Engineers created humans just as God did. Also, it is mentioned that the Engineers intended to destroy humans after some event about 2000 years ago, implying the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This hints that Jesus was an emissary sent by the Engineers in an attempt to turn civilization around. But humans instead killed this emissary, thus leading the Engineers to decide it was time for humans to be no longer. So while there is the symbolism for God in the Engineers there is also the thought of who created the Engineers (as Shaw asks when David, the android, asks if their discovery makes her doubt her beliefs), leading the viewer to question where the line between religion and science lies and whether it needs to be so clear cut. Obviously we live in a highly scientific world, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for religion and philosophy.  Then comes one of the biggest questions. Why did the Engineers create us? And why did they want to destroy us? What is the significance of our life and existence? One of the most striking scenes in relation to this idea is when David asks Holloway, another main character who is disappointed not to have found a live Engineer, why he thought humans created him, an android. This raises the question of whether human life really has any point at all, whether there is any significance to our existence or whether it is rather common, one of the main questions in the current search for life in the universe. (Also, although I didn’t mention it here, follow the link to the page on the myth of Prometheus and look at the connections there to the ideas presented in the film.)

While I have touched on a few points here, there is so much more out there. I encourage anyone reading this to watch the movie and think, read, and talk about its implications and messages. Many of the points it brings up are issues on the forefront of our scientific world that each and every one of us should be aware of.

A Scientific Balance

This is a response to the New York Times article “Does Science Matter?” written by William J. Broad and James Glanz.

Science and religion have never been the best of friends. While they are both concerned with some common issues, they represent two very different ends of a spectrum. At one end of this spectrum lies a world wholly devoted to science, in which knowledge of the world around us abounds. Societal and political obstacles in tackling the unknown seem to be nonexistent. The article includes a quote from Steven Weinberg, though, in which he writes that “the more the universe becomes comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” There is a certain wonder to the unknown. There always has been and always will be. Having that presence of the unknown still in this world is what keeps scientific interest and discovery chugging along. If we knew everything there is to know, that wonder would disappear. There would be no magic in the mysteries of the universe, only a book full of the facts and theories, or as many people would see it, just a bunch more facts that they don’t need to know.

Now, this seems to present a fairly strong argument for the religion side of the spectrum, for the willing suspension of disbelief of the unknown in the universe, for faith in the fact that although we may not know everything there is to know, we don’t need to. We can just enjoy the miracles of existence. For this side of the spectrum there is also a sanctity in what lies beyond our planet, in the heavens. And probing into this with scientific feelers can be seen as trying to understand something that we are not supposed to.

That said, I personally am not a religious person in the least. My initial thought is that I want to know everything there is to know about the universe. But, I do see the validity to the argument that, with knowledge, there is also a sense of pointlessness. Why should we care about what we already know if we can’t build upon it to discover more? As I said before, science and religion represent the ends of a spectrum. My opinion is that scientific discovery is at its apex of interest and knowledge somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. The desire for knowledge is exacerbated by knowledge itself. The more we know, the more we want to know. That is where interest in science comes from. There will always be the scientific types who want to know everything. There will also always be those who are content with the level of knowledge available and who will leave the rest to wonder. In my opinion, the perfect scientific balance lies with a society in which there is a constant desire to learn more, but at the same time an awareness that we will never know everything, and a level of contentment in the wondrous  awe that comes with the mysteries of the universe.


Hi there! I’m Jamie.


Although it has always interested me immensely, the extent of my astronomy experience all but ends with stargazing, albeit quite extensive stargazing. It’s always been amazing for me on backcountry camping, hiking, and mountaineering trips to look up at the stars at night, especially in the backcountry with little light pollution to detract from their fullness and luminosity, and just imagine, well… that I knew more about what I was looking at I suppose. I’ve always been able to pick out some of the more obvious constellations, but beyond a rather basic high school education on physical science and the solar system, that is about it.

I’m currently attending Colorado College and plan on majoring in Biology. I’ve always had an interest in the natural sciences and what makes humans human, plants plant, and life the crazy mashup of biological factors that it is that allows us the existence that we have come into. I’m particularly interested in the origin of this crazy interconnectedness, otherwise known as evolution.

I was born and raised in Essex, Vermont, and I don’t know that there’s any place that I love more.


Mt. Mansfield, VT

Growing up in the wonderful, outdoorsy setting of the state, I have always felt like the outdoors and environment have played a big part in my life, which I continue to feel although I’m no longer in VT. That connection has led me in more recent years to start taking advantage of the outdoors climbing, biking, mountaineering, and snowboarding.


Me on the right, by the way…

I hope to continue this strong interest and connection to the outdoors as I move into the future and to bring elements of my academic life, such as my interest in biology, into this part of my life.

As I said, my primary academic interest lies in biology, so my primary goal in this course is to look at the idea of life and what makes it possible from a different viewpoint than is traditionally found in most biology courses. The idea of analyzing ALL of the factors involved in life, and not just the biological ones, seems very interesting to me and is something that I look forward to doing. Also, the focus on astronomy and life-indicating factors throughout the universe is a big pull. I mean, c’mon. Aliens? What could be more interesting. But seriously, I do hope to be challenged to look at sciences that are familiar to me in a different light as other factors are added to the picture.

One topic in astronomy that interests me in particular is the search for markers of the potential for life on other planets, such as the discoveries on Mars relating to water and the potential availability of compounds necessary for life to exist. Like I’ve said before, it’s kind of all about the biology for me.