Friday, October 12, 2012
You can find dozens of images of planetary nebulae on the APOD or Hubble web sites, but few are as beautifully symmetric as Abell 39, a lovely soap bubble in space. This "soap bubble" is 5 light-years across. If that were the dying Sun at the center of the nebula, the shell of gas would reach half-way to our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri. The bubble is 7,000 light years away, in our own Milky Way Galaxy.
This will be the fate of our own star in 5 billion years or so -– outer layers blown off into space, then collapse into a white dwarf, a burned-out star with the remaining mass crushed by gravity to the sixe of the Earth (you can think of it roughly as atom-against-atom). Then a slow extinction, leaving a bubble behind that will slowly disperse into the interstellar medium.
Anyway, it was a fitting image. I spent the holiday blowing off my own late-life excess of exhausted matter.
A back bedroom upstairs filled to overflowing with the accumulated artifacts of a lifetime. Personal journals. Book manuscripts, including embarrassingly bad books I wrote before I had any idea how to write. Dozens of magazines and journals in which I had an essay or book review. Reviews of my own books. Movie scripts. Out-take tapes from Frankie Starlight. Thousands of xeroxed Globe columns. A hundred floppy disks. Obsolete software disks and manuals. Defunct laptops, going back to the first Mac laptop that appeared on the market. A dot-matrix printer. Photographs. Drawing tools. Tons of correspondence from the days when correspondence was on paper. Stuff I do not even remember. It was like an archeological dig.
What to save? What to throw in the dumpster?
Bag after bag went out in the trash, my blown-off bubble, the planetary nebula of my life. Saved whatever I presumptuously thought the kids or grandkids might someday find nostalgic, my white dwarf core, a bedroom full of one man's life squeezed into a tiny closet.