Friday, November 03, 2006

Like rubies ringed with gold


Here's a new Hubble Space Telescope composite photograph of two colliding galaxies in the constellation Corvus. Click to enlarge or look for large image on the link.

Each of the three books of Dante's Divine Comedy ends with the same words: "the stars."

The Inferno concludes with distant stars glimpsed through the narrow exit of hell. "We emerged," says the poet, "and saw the stars."

The poet's journey through Purgatory ends on Earth's highest mountain, with the heavens seemingly not so far away. He is "ready to ascend to the stars."

Finally, Dante looks down upon the stars from above, from the luminous realm of Paradise. He has experienced "the Love that moves the sun and the other stars."

The beauty of that final destination, the Empyrean Sphere that encloses the created universe in divine brilliance, taxes the poet's powers of description:
I saw light in the shape of a river
Flashing golden between two banks
Tinted in colors of marvelous spring.
Out of the stream came living sparks
Which settled on the flowers on every side
Like rubies ringed with gold...
Nothing in Dante's experience could have prepared him for the splendors of the heavens as revealed by the Hubble. The photograph of colliding galaxies in Corvus is a work of genius in the tradition of the Divine Comedy -- imagination in service to humankind's loftiest aspirations and longings.