Dr Julian Cook's science laboratory

10-02-11

The science world is celebrating this week at the discovery of the oldest known galaxy.

Not even light can escape from Sabrina

At 13.2 billion light years away, the distances are mind boggling and you may be panicking because you don’t know what it all means. But you’ll find everything slips into place when you just sing these words: ‘Everybody, summertime love!’.

If you’re anything like me, you’re now thinking of the glamorous 80s pop sensation, Sabrina and her massive hit record Boys, Boys, Boys.  Sabrina couldn’t hold a note, owned cheaply made swimwear and facially was rather like a butch Christopher Dean. But somehow she managed to become a star – men and women alike swooned because of her huge stage presence and the lyrics of her song. Like me, they saw she had an inner beauty, even after all the disadvantages life had thrust upon her.

And where is Sabrina now? Well, there’s no point looking for her: she’s gone forever and there’s no way anyone will ever get to go shopping with her again. And it is this that she has in common with UDFj-39546284, Hubble’s latest big discovery.

Like Sabrina, all that is truly fabulous about this ancient galaxy existed far away in the distant past of the universe and the only reason we know about it today is because of a magnificent image which was broadcast 13 billion years ago. It really was the most amazing spectacle, but if we were to go there now, there would be nothing but a black hole, sucking in and devouring all kinds of flotsam from the immediate vicinity and interring it in its ever expanding core. It’s the tragic fate of our own Milky Way system and, sadly, of every young bronzed poultry buff who smiles playfully from behind the bar in Nandos. It’s easy to get depressed about this cruel fact of life but the best course of action is simply not to think about it too much and order another Blue Margarita.

However there is a school of thought who subscribe to the theory whereby UDFj-39546284 is not gone. In fact, intelligent life could have formed there which might be studying us back. I find it a rather unnerving prospect. If such evolution had occurred on Sabrina, I dread to think what manner of terrible brilliance might be at work. She could have entered the world of championship darts or even the Knights Templar – it’s not uncommon.

There may be some who feel a stirring in their trousers at the notion of Sabrina surreptitiously watching us with her one eye bigger than the other;  perhaps Professor Cox is one of them – I couldn’t speculate. But the fact of the matter is: galaxies, like all fabulous Latinas, don’t get to be iridescent and glorious forever. Sabrina never thought the black hole would happen to her but it did, and one day soon it’ll happen to the young pretender, Ricky Martin. And after we’ve been through the gruelling horror of that, it will happen to us.  

 

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