I've got this song from my younger days
bouncing around in my head these days.
We've only just begun to live,
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we're on our way.
And yes, we've just begun.
Written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols
for, believe it or not, a bank commercial, the Carpenters
made it famous as their signature love song. I think it was
a law in the early 70's that this song be performed at every
wedding in the United States. Or at least it seemed that way.
So why has this song been rattling around
in my brain these days? No, I'm not planning on getting married.
Been there, am doing that.
The reason? Astronomy. It seems that hardly
a week goes by these days without an item of astronomical
news appearing that starts the refrain all over again: we've
only just begun. Consider just two items in the astronomical
news during the past few weeks.
FEB 16, 2000 (Columbia University): "For
the first time in history, scientists are now able to see
the details of a supernova remnant in the making. We have
observed many examples of supernova remnants--for example,
the Crab Nebula--but all were formed long ago. We have never
before seen one in the making in any meaningful degree of
While the radiation from the Supernova 1987A
explosion (in the Large Magellanic Cloud) traveled out at
the speed of light, material from the star itself was ejected
at a much lower speed, some tens of millions of miles per
hour. This material is now beginning to catch up and collide
with material blown out some twenty thousand years earlier
by the star in a relatively gentle, slow, cool stellar wind.
Peter Garnavich (University of Notre Dame) explains, "The
real fireworks show is finally starting, and over the next
ten years things will get spectacular."
About the same time as the Supernova Supershow
was announced the European Southern Observatory announced
that "first light" on the third Very Large Telescope
was achieved in record time. Later this year the fourth VLT
unit will go online. Telescopes such as the VLT, the Keck
telescopes, the Hubble Space Telescope, the CHANDRA X-ray
telescope, the recently announced SALT (South American Large
Telescope), and the much anticipated Next Generation Space
Telescope (which some say will have one hundred times the
sensitivity of HST) means, to all of us that, truly, "we've
only just begun. Don't change the channel. It's getting good.
The plot thickens. You ain't seen nothin' yet.
Oh, by the way, my favorite Carpenters tune
was their awesome 1990 smash hit: "Calling Occupants
Of Interplanetary Craft". Well, maybe it wasn't a smash
hit, but they DID record it! Next month: A long distance call
to Comet Hale-Bopp. Just kidding.
click for larger image
A Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field and
Planetary Camera 2 look at the remnant of Supernova 1987A
taken on February 2, 2000. The 13-year-old explosion's shock
wave collides with a surrounding ring of prior ejecta from
the supernova's genesis star. Courtesy NASA, Peter Challis
and Robert Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics),
Peter Garnavich (University of Notre Dame) and the SINS collaboration.
"The goodness of the night upon you"
Othello Act 1 Scene 2