NASA photos show giant Cosmic Hand

NASA recently released the following photo

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1323.html

From the NASA website:

A small dense object, only 12 miles in diameter is responsible for this beautiful X-ray nebula that spans 150 light years across.  At the centre of this image made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is a very young and powerful pulsar, known as PSR B1509-58 or B1509 for short.  The pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star which is spewing energy out into the space around it to create complex and intriguing structures, including one that resembles a large cosmic hand.

The description on the NASA website then goes on to describe the conditions necessary for the formation of the nebula depicted in the preceding image.   

As with the majority of the photos released by NASA, the image itself is amazing.  While the visuals are inspiring in themselves,  what is even more amazing (in my humble opinion) is the study and understanding of the natural occurrences that made this image possible!    

Equally amazing, though for different reasons, is the following article released by CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/space/04/14/space.hand/

Please take a moment to read the article.  It is not long at all.

Similar to the description listed on the NASA website, the author of the CNN article states that the NASA image “resembles a large cosmic hand”.  Alright, we are off to a good start, nothing terribly offensive there; the author is not, at this point, claiming that the image is actually of a hand, but instead simply resembles one.  It is after this seemingly benign statement, however, that things quickly fall apart.  The author of the CNN article how the image “shows what appear to be ghostly blue fingers — thumb and pinky clearly discernible from index, ring and middle digits — reaching into a sparkling cloud of fiery red.”  He describes the nebula in fairly dramatic terms – a “ghostly” hand “reaching” through the “sparkling” and “fiery” cosmos.

Again let me state that the author of the CNN article started out fine;  at the outset of the article it seemed as if the author may use this NASA image as an opportunity to discuss the incredible workings of the nebula, or even point out the phenomena of pareidolia.  But, as is often the case, scientific discovery must give way to mythos and discussions of a “cosmic hand”.  Sure the image looks something like a hand, but to argue that the “digits” are clearly discernible, makes it sound as if we are attempting to prove that this is in fact an image of an ACTUAL hand.  The author of the CNN article even goes so far as to sound somewhat surprised that the NASA scientists are more interested in the make up of the nebula rather than the fact that the image obtained “looks” like a hand.  Why is the reporter surprised by this?  Is he actually attempting to propose that this image is actually of a REAL hand?  Is that why he is surprised by the NASA scientists interest?  Is he proposing that NASA’s time would be better spent in determining who this hand belongs to?

As I previously mentioned, the image obtained by NASA is a clear case of pareidolia.  The human brain is hard-wired to make out familiar images in everything we see.  This is how our brains cope with the incredible amount of information in our environment; we seek comfort in familiar patterns.  Pareidolia is a type of psychological phenomenon wherein an inherently vague and random stimulus is perceived as specific and/or significant.   Human brains default to ‘seeing’ familiar images in random or chaotic circumstances.  It is no less intriguing that this NASA image “looks like a hand” than the lock on my front door “looks like a face”.    

Some would argue that my statements obsess over the minutia, that my critique is over zealous.  My zeal regarding the minutia here is warranted, as it brings to light the harmful subjectivity of mainstream media’s ‘scientific’ reporting; they pick and choose what they deem relevant about scientific discovery according to what is entertaining rather than factual.  Instead of using this image as an opportunity to get the public excited about science, the author has instead used this image to report about ghost hands in space.  After all, why should we learn about nebulas and star formation, or the development of potential galaxies, when we can prattle on about  how the image “looks” like a hand.  In my opinion, this is not only extremely poor science writing and poor reporting, but dangerous.  This is the kind of ignorant and, pardon the cuss, half-assed and asinine reporting that applauds and promotes ignorance and superstition.  This is in no way an insignificant matter;  a valuable opportunity has been missed to get the public excited about science and the natural world around us.

So with the above information in mind, what does all of this mean to you the reader.  Maybe more importantly, what can you do?  Learn about the natural world around you.

Do you know what a nebula is?

Do you know what a light year is?

Do you know what a neutron star is?

Look these things up!  You will be glad that you did! 

It is my promise that you will be better served by knowledge than cosmic spirit fingers.

 

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One Response to “NASA photos show giant Cosmic Hand”

  1. Good article. Mainstream media has gone too far into outer space (forgive the saying) in terms of down to earth reporting.

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