Friday, January 05, 2007

Unstructured Astronomy

Poets and romantics have long lamented that science destroys our sense of wonder leaving us only the cold realities of a bleak universe. That's what Keats was going on about when he complained about Newton unweaving the rainbow.

I've always had a hard time understanding this point of view. In my experience, science reveals the universe and what it finds is a place of unexpected and surprising beauty, albeit one that doesn't always conform to human expectations.

The latest installment of this phenomenon is the discovery that when stars fade away into white dwarfs (which is the common end for the vast majority of stars in the universe) what is left at the end is a gigantic diamond.

For a long time white dwarfs were viewed as being nothing more than the degenerate remnants of once magnificent stars -- little more than cosmic husks. The notion that the final stage of a stars life is something as exquisite and beautiful as a diamond is actually rather romantic.

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