Sunday, November 30, 2008

Distant Star

The speed of light is immutable. And it's very fast - 186,000 miles per second. In our experience, light seems immediate. Turn on a flashlight and there's a light spot on the wall. You can't follow the path of a flashlight's beam as you can, for example, the path of a baseball. Yet over astronomical distances light starts to look a little sluggish. Our Sun is approximately 93 million miles away. Therefore it takes light from the Sun over 8 minutes to reach the Earth. We are bathed in the Sun's past. From our perspective, more distant stars have older light. For the most distant light sources, we are looking billions of years into the past.

A distant star shone brightly last week when Guns N' Roses released Chinese Democracy, an album 15 years in the making. Suggestive of the strangeness of it all, Simon Reynolds has a review on Salon judging Chinese Democracy alongside Kanye West's new offering. I have not listened to the album, but based on Reynolds's review, Chinese Democracy was the last and fading light escaped before the explosion.

(image credit: Geffen/Universal, wikipedia.org)