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Pictures Of Two Different Deeps

I feel out of my depth in most things in life, mostly because our human world moves too fast for my comfort. I mean by that both that the speed of our civilized life has a pace that I have a difficult time keeping up with and that I feel overwhelmed by the huge scale of the commercial operations ready to serve my comfort on credit, ASAP. It’s too hot, too loud, too fast.

Standing outside and contemplating the night sky or the ocean helps calm these sensations. Perhaps that’s part of why people become astronomers or marine biologists do what they do – though their work goes far beyond gazing. They focus on the details of the questions of the deep, rather than merely contemplating them.

Two pieces of deep scientific work have been released this week. One is a photograph taken by the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere of a dark and apparently empty section of the sky.

That sounds pretty boring, on the face of it – a picture snapped of emptiness. However, that’s not the true character of the photograph. The section of sky the photograph shows isn’t really empty, for one thing. It’s just apparently empty – to the human eye and even to ordinary telescopes. Also, this photograph took 55 hours to take. These 55 hours weren’t simultaneous, either. That 55 hours of exposure came from bits of time cobbled together, night after night after night.

What the picture shows is the deep, deep universe, with objects at a distance further away than has ever been seen before. The photograph shows galaxies as they were billions of years ago – when the universe was just 2 billion years old.

The other scientific project is much closer in focus, but just as deep. People working on a global Census of Marine Life will be meeting in Valencia, Spain this week, and to mark the meeting, they have released a report summarizing what they’ve found so far. They’ve found a huge number of new species, new ecosystems, and new kinds of behaviors. The census database includes 14 million records of observations that cover huge areas of the oceans, yet leave still immense areas unobserved.

One challenge for the Census of Marine Life is the need to hurry to document what may soon be destroyed. The most poignant part of the summary for me was a report on a census net, set at a depth of 4,300 meters in the Eastern Mediterranean, that brought up more human garbage than marine life.

Expect to hear more news of great findings and terrible losses from the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity throughout the week.

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