Sunday, December 1, 2019

listen to the living walls


The star HD 44179 is surrounded by an extraordinary structure known as the Red Rectangle. It acquired its moniker because of its shape and its apparent color when seen in early images from Earth. This strikingly detailed Hubble image reveals how, when seen from space, the nebula, rather than being rectangular, is shaped like an X with additional complex structures of spaced lines of glowing gas, a little like the rungs of a ladder. The star at the center is similar to the Sun, but at the end of its lifetime, pumping out gas and other material to make the nebula, and giving it the distinctive shape. It also appears that the star is a close binary that is surrounded by a dense torus of dust -- both of which may help to explain the very curious shape. The Red Rectangle is an unusual example of what is known as a proto-planetary nebula. These are old stars, on their way to becoming planetary nebulae. Once the expulsion of mass is complete a very hot white dwarf star will remain and its brilliant ultraviolet radiation will cause the surrounding gas to glow.

The Red Rectangle is found about 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn). (ESA/Hubble and NASA)

Be still
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
To speak your

Name.
Listen
to the living walls.
Who are you?
Who
Are you? Whose
Silence are you?

Who (be quiet)
Are you (as these stones
Are quiet).  Do not
Think of what you are
Still less of 
What you may one day be.
Rather
Be what you are (but who?) be
The unthinkable one
You do not know.

O be still, while
You are still alive,
And all things live around you
Speaking (I do not hear)
To your own being,
Speaking by the Unknown
That is in you and in themselves.

"I will try, like them
To be my own silence:
And this is difficult.  The whole
World is secretly on fire.  The stones
Burn, even the stones
They burn me. How can a man be still or
Listen to all things burning?  How can he dare
To sit with them when
All their silence
Is on fire?

- Thomas Merton, The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, pp. 280-281

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