Sometimes the universe is the perfect way to express our feelings.
A space cloud 7,500 light-years away has given us the best farewell we can think of for this whole 2020 year-round shower.
This small piece of material is part of a much larger cloud complex called the Carina Nebula, and under normal circumstances will not get its own nickname. But its distinctive shape has led scientists to call it by the nickname ‘Defiant Finger’.
And this is exactly what it looks like – the age-old obscene gesture of “go do yourself filthy things”, and “go away, but in much rougher words”.
Actually, the Defiant Finger is known as a Bok Globule. It is small, dark, dense knots of dust and gas that are often the birthplace of stars. As denser parts of the cloud contract further, they can collapse under their own gravity and begin to turn into a star.
The Defiant Finger, which consists of 6 solar masses’ material, can contain stars; because it is so dense, it is difficult to see inside. The glow that appears to come from external sources – the light of bright stars in the environment.
Because young stars are usually bright and warm, they explode their surroundings with radiation. The outside of the Defiant Fingerball is likely ignited and ionized by the Wolf-Rayet star WR 25, a very short-lived, massive star at the end of its life; Tr16-244, a hot young giant; or a combination of both.
But as they illuminate, these stars also destroy: they slowly evaporate the defiant finger. At the current estimated rate of mass loss, the dust cloud has a projected lifespan of only 200,000 to 1 million years.
It is cosmic not very long, not very long at all. But it is long enough to make a poetic statement: a shout in the void, a provocative gesture in the face of inevitability. And a very appropriate way to close the door on 2020.
Thank you, space. And bring 2021.