Gold Star Hurricane

[Image: A stunning photograph of the Rosette Nebula, taken by Ignacio de la Cueva Torregrosa, courtesy of NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day archive. View larger!].

A few bits of astronomical news seem worth repeating here on BLDGBLOG:
1) Weather has been observed on the surface of a star for the first time. Astronomers have now seen “mercury clouds” moving through the turbulent skies of “a star called Alpha Andromedae.”

[Image: Weather on a star; via New Scientist].

Because the star does not have a magnetic field, however, scientists have been left scratching their heads over what causes the clouds to form; for the time being, then, no one really knows where these things come from.
I wonder, though, how far this “weather” metaphor really goes: are there storms, and hurricanes, and tornadoes? Is there actual convection up there, in the outer atmosphere of Alpha Andromedae, and, if so, is there ever precipitation – frozen mercury snowing down toward the star’s core on slow currents of helium gas?
While we’re on the subject, I’m also curious if there are any religious systems that use “hurricanes of mercury” as a kind of divine threat. You will be struck down by a hurricane of mercury…
After all, aren’t Mormons worried about being consumed by “hurricanes of fire”?
In which case a hurricane of, say, argon – or a tornado of germanium – isn’t all that much of a stretch.

[Image: A reflection nebula in Cepheus, beautifully photographed by Giovanni Benintende, courtesy of NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day].

Or perhaps a hurricane of transition metals could come blowing in over the islands of Stockholm, coating that city in a smooth new shell of mineralogical forms…

2) Meanwhile, some stars are apparently plated in gold.
“Scattered through space,” we read, “are some peculiar stars that seem to contain more gold, mercury and platinum than ordinary stars such as our Sun.”
These stars are referred to as being “chemically peculiar.”

[Image: Star Cluster R136, photographed by NASA, et. al.].

One star, in particular, which astronomers have named “chi Lupi,” has 100,000 times as much mercury as the Sun, and 10,000 times as much gold, platinum, and thallium.
What’s really, really cool about this, though, is that chi Lupi can apparently be thought of as a series of concentric shells, where each shell consists primarily of one element; the locations of these shells are determined by the atomic weights of the elements they contain.

[Image: The Carina Nebula, photographed by NASA, et. al.; view bigger!].

In other words, “the heavy metals in the star were pushed outwards by the radiation pressure of the star’s ultraviolet light, but were kept from escaping by gravity.” On chi Lupi, for instance, there is a shell of mercury in the “stellar photosphere.”
Thin outer layers of gold can thus be found on this and other “chemically peculiar” stars throughout the universe.

[Image: The Cat’s Eye nebula, photographed by NASA, et. al.].

3) Finally, we’ve all heard about things like this before, but “one of the largest and most luminous stars in our galaxy” is also “a surprisingly prolific building site for complex molecules important to life on Earth.”

The discovery furthers an ongoing shift in astronomers’ perceptions of where such molecules can form, and where to set the starting line for the chain of events that leads from raw atoms to true biology.

That “true biology” can be tracked back to the stars is nothing new; but the fact that a star called VY Canis Majoris – “a red hypergiant star estimated to be 25 times the Sun’s mass and nearly half a million times the Sun’s brightness” – is burning with pre-biotic compounds, “including hydrogen cyanide (HCN), silicon monoxide (SiO), sodium chloride (NaCl) and a molecule, PN, in which a phosphorus atom and a nitrogen atom are bound together,” is apparently reason to get excited.

[Image: The Ophiuchius reflection nebula, photographed by Takayuki Yoshida; courtesy of NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day].

First, let me quickly say that I love – love! – the idea that biologists might someday study stars in their quest to understand the chemical origins of molecular biology; and, second, I’m curious if we could combine these three articles – asking: could storms of living matter form on the outer surface of a star, reaching hurricane strength as they blow in whorls and vortical currents across gold-plated skies?
The first astronomer to discover a living storm should win some sort of prize, I think.

[Image: The Carina Nebula, via NASA’s awesomely fun Astronomy Picture of the Day


In any case:

Even simple phosphorus-bearing molecules such as PN are of interest to astrobiologists because phosphorus is relatively rare in the universe – yet it is necessary for constructing both DNA and RNA molecules, as well as ATP, the key molecule in cellular metabolism.

These chemicals “can later find their way into newborn solar systems” – although it had been thought that “any molecules that condensed from the cooling, expelled gas would later be destroyed by the intense ultraviolet radiation emitted by the star.”
An expanding star, it was thought, like something out of the Greek myths, thus sterilized its progeny.

[Image: NGC 6302 – like some sort of exploding angel – photographed by A. Zijlstra and NASA].

But there’s good news for we living creatures: the “ejected material” that later seeds fledgling solar systems with prebiotic compounds also “contains clumps of dust particles that apparently shield the molecules and can shepherd them safely into interstellar space.”
Note the “shepherd” metaphor.
Anyway, this all seems to suggest “that the chemistry that leads to life may be more widespread in the universe and more robust than previous studies have suggested.”

[Image: NGC 7000, the North America nebula, alongside the Pelican nebula; photographed by Nicolas Outters, courtesy of NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day].

These astrobiological studies will soon be helped along by a “high-altitude radio interferometer, consisting of 50 dishes – each 12 metres wide – currently under construction” in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

[Image: Another view of NGC 7000; I can’t find the origin of this photograph, unfortunately – but the minute I can credit this to the appropriate photographer or institution, I will do so!].

(Earlier on BLDGBLOG: The uttermost reaches of solar influence, Struck by loops, An electromagnetic Grand Canyon, moving through space, Bulletproof, and Planetarium Among the Dunes).

10 thoughts on “Gold Star Hurricane”

  1. Sidebar: I’m a life-long Mormon, and I’m afraid I can’t recall having ever heard the phrase “hurricane(s) of fire”. I even googled the phrase, and only came up with a smattering of references — none of which were of a Mormon nature.

    We’re millennialists of a sort, but hardly the kind that uses it to strike fear into unbelievers…

  2. So it seems that everything I know about Mormonism, I learned from Jon Krakauer:

    “Krakauer takes readers inside isolated communities in the American West, Canada, and Mexico, where some forty-thousand Mormon Fundamentalists believe the mainstream Mormon Church went unforgivably astray when it renounced polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the leaders of these outlaw sects are zealots who answer only to God. Marrying prodigiously and with virtual impunity (the leader of the largest fundamentalist church took seventy-five “plural wives,” several of whom were wed to him when they were fourteen or fifteen and he was in his eighties), fundamentalist prophets exercise absolute control over the lives of their followers, and preach that any day now the world will be swept clean in a hurricane of fire, sparing only their most obedient adherents.”

    And that is, I should clarify, Fundamentalist Mormonism, an offshoot of the actual Church.

  3. A hundred years later, and these folks are still an “offshoot”…

    le sigh…

    : )

    They’re as much “Mormon” as the Lutherans of Prairie Home Companion fame are Catholic.

    ; )

    Jon Krakauer should stick to writing books about people who die in the woods — an absolutely riveting read which I hope was more factual than his last ditty.

    Great blog, you’re in my newsreader, so I catch every post… you’re one of my favorites, and I wish you continued success.

  4. Immediately upon reading “mercury clouds” I imagined them to be, in fact, nanobots. A cloud-shaped civilization floating on the photosphere (rather than ‘atmosphere’) of a distant star.

  5. Doesn’t Mormonism officially state that God lives on a planet orbiting the star Kohalath?

    And isn’t it a crazy coincidence that that star happens to be located in our galaxy?

  6. So speaking of the Mormons, what do the interior spaces of their Salt Lake Temple actually look like? Is there a nave, a transept, a choir, peripheral chapels? Are the spaces ordered according to the Latin rite? The transcept would at least imply a basic cruciform superstructure. Os is the temple like a hotel, with private rooms, with your choices of single, double or a suite, and much larger conference rooms for big congregations, all of which can be reserved and rented out for pastoral services? And the stained glass windows that we see from the outside do not lit one cavernous space but rather each one services one or two rooms? Also is the church’s famous geneological records stored in multi-story underground chambers, as deep as the Sears Tower is high, where one could find, say, the records of 6,000,000+ Jews killed during the Holocaust are kept so that they may be baptized postmortem, Christianized, and thus able to enter into Grace? Well, actually, the records are kept in some mountain, which I can’t seem to find on Google at the moment. Provisionally I’m thinking it’s somewhere near the Church of Scientology’s own subterranean archive-complex.

    Completely off-topic: if someone could point me to photos (not illustrations) of the interior of the Kaaba, that’d be great.

    Anyway, thanks for the photo of the Carina Nebula. I like the way NASA described this “fantasy-like landscape” — “where a maelstrom of star birth – and death – is taking place” — “sculpted by the action of outflowing winds and scorching ultraviolet radiation from the monster stars that inhabit this inferno.” If only some of the landscape projects designed by the likes of West 8, Martha Schwartz, Ken Smith, Peter Latz, etc. can described like so.

  7. Firstly, a top rate blog which I really enjoy. Good luck in the new job, I’m sure you’ll blitz it.

    I have only attended the LDS Church for 40 years and not once have I heard “hurricanes of fire” even mentioned. And I was paying attention.

    Please, please, please, if you are going to learn about *anything*, go to the source for accurate information, not some guido who wants to make $$$ on some dodgy book. Let me know, I can arrange two young missionaries to teach you all the facts in the comfort of your own home, if you wish 🙂

    Cheers from Sydney, Australia

  8. I like the little pamphlet in with the hymnals in the pews at First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City that explain the dogma of our neighbors’ faith. Proper Mormons get to on to become ‘gods of their own worlds’ in their afterlife, besting most of the speculative fiction that I’ve read in the past 47 years.

    I prefer the “We Are All Star Stuff” idea such as this one

    Wonderful articles and photos, thanks.

  9. Looks like I’ve been picked to be the tour guide, here. Sorry Geoff for the threadjack…

    @Em… Our scriptures speak of God living near the star Kolob. And there’s no word on where that is… Sorry to burst the bubble of intrigue. For folks who are interested in cosmologies, though, Mormon cosmology is certainly worth a gander (the Wikipedia article is a nice gloss, but could be much much longer).

    @Alexander Trevi… The Salt Lake temple interior is very much reflective of religious architectural motifs of the period, but without a nave, transept, or other cathedral-like spaces… There are several stories, each with many rooms. Some are large and are for formal worship, others for quiet reflection. Whereas most of Christian architecture is meant to underscore man’s nothingness compared to deity, LDS temple architecture is meant to underscore man’s status as children of God. Which means there are no large, cavernous spaces with soaring ceilings… Most rooms are proportioned like the rooms in homes (albeit rather nice homes). Here are some photos from 1912. After the recent restoration work, the Church commissioned and published many photos of the interior… but I can’t seem to find them. But as a resident of Salt Lake City, I’ve had the chance to worship in the Temple, and it’s lovely. The palette (which you can’t gather from the B&W photos) is white, soft pink, pastel teal, and cream — with gold leaf throughout (Here’s a link to the official Church portal on temples).

    The Granite Mountain complex is just up the road in the Cottonwood canyon area… and storing important documents in the temperate climate of a cave (natural or man-made) is hardly new or uncommon.

    Here’s a good article on the controversy surrounding proxy baptism on behalf of Holocaust victims… by way of casting the practice of proxy baptism in the proper light (every religion’s ordinances fit within a particular, and often cohesive world-view… trying to discuss them outside of that context is difficult), I’d say this: we believe that all must be baptized who wish to receive exaltation… proxy baptism is a way for families to pave the way for their ancestors by doing the necessary legwork and then allowing the ancestor to accept or reject that work, as they wish. A poor (but workable) analogy would be purchasing tickets for one’s ancestor to an important event, and leaving them at will-call. If we’re all to live with each other in the here-after, such acts of service (in the Mormon worldview) by folks on behalf of their ancestors are meant to help the two parties bond on a personal level.

    Moving on…

    We’re walking, we’re walking…

    @Steve… If children aspire to become like their parents — and parent aspire for their children to become like / better than themselves, it shouldn’t be a surprise that our Heavenly Father wants us to be like Him (inasmuch as it is possible).

    … anyway. Mormon doctrines are as complex and intriguing as most other belief systems… and hardly lend themselves to proper treatment in such a confined and linear medium as this. Hope I’ve done it some justice, though.


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