We go out to look at the stars, not to listen to them. To look on what appears mostly unchanged and unchanging, aside from planets and a few other objects. Often enough to enjoy a bit of silence, if fortunate.

At least I do. But now I’ve learned that our universe is littered with objects of every unimaginable size that are exploding, shrinking, smashing into one another, venting and contorting all the time. “Time” is one of those interesting concepts, of course, but there are so many objects “out there” that if our hearing was better we’d hear some noise.

But space is a vacuum with few particles to conduct sound waves. There can be silent nights so far as space permits.

Plus, of course, some of the objects are pretty darn distant.

Therefore, instead of commenting on the recent activities of T. Cruz or computer debacles, my preference is to look at the night sky and wonder. Wonder how many other life forms there can be — out there. Wonder why there’s no sound in space: All that dark energy out there must be made of really small, er, particles, I guess. Nothing big enough to transmit sound, despite its supposed prevalence.

The universe is expanding. Not only expanding, it’s (still?) speeding up. One of our spacecraft has escaped the envelope of our solar system. Now what? Three of our other spacecraft are beginning a joint effort to look deeper into the universe than ever before. NASA is going to juggle its three incredible space telescopes — Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra — and for the next three years, focusing them on massive galaxies. These particular clusters are among the most massive assemblages of matter known, so large and massive that their gravitational fields can be used, gee whiz, to brighten and magnify more distant galaxies so they can be observed. In effect, nature’s natural telescopes.

The Hubble Space Telescope will tell us which galaxies to look at. Spitzer will tell us how old each galaxy is and how many stars have formed. Data from the Hubble and Spitzer will be combined to measure galaxies’ masses and distances accurately. The Chandra X-ray Observatory will help determine their gravitational-lensing powers and detect supermassive black holes.

The three-year effort, called the Frontier Fields, should uncover galaxies that are as much as 100 times farther than what any one of these individual observatories can see.

What a concept: Working together to get something done. Peachy.

This could be the place for a treatise on light pollution, but it’s not the time. Man used to curse the darkness. Now he curses too much poorly directed urban lighting for blotting out his view of the stars. That’s man for you.

Field Notes: November could be known as Waterfowl Month in Jackson Hole. In an average November a wonderful sampling of ducks, swans and geese takes temporary respite along their southern migration.

On Sunday, Susan Patla noted a buildup of common mergansers, buffleheads, redheads, ring-necks on Flat Creek in the National Elk Refuge. No swans number there yet, but November usually brings both trumpeter and tundra swans for a spell. A dozen tundras on Puzzleface Ranch on Sunday (Susan Patla). A stop at Flat Creek bridge just north of Jackson can be rewarding almost any time.

It’s November when, in the space of a few hours, an observer (Frances Clark) can spot both a late meadowlark and a shrike. Or a lone redpoll traveling with goldfinches (Vance Carruth).

Great gray owls were seen in recent days by John Becker, John Drew, and Julie and Zach Hall. Reports of great grays will be welcomed by Bryan Bedrosian of Craighead Beringia South or Susan Patla of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

November, and elk, deer, moose and pronghorn all might be on the move any time of the day. Mostly at dawn or dusk. Drive safely.

A great horned owl began hunting the intersection of Route 22 and Spring Gulch Road at 6:45 p.m. Saturday (Mary Lohuis). Seems a dangerous location for an owl.

Come out Tuesday evening for the Nov. 12 meeting of the Jackson Hole Bird and Nature Club from 6 to 8 p.m. at Teton County Library. Everybody is welcome.

Taza Schaming of Cornell University will present an update on the status of Clark’s nutcrackers and whitebark pine in Teton County.

© Bert Raynes 2013

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.


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