Poetry through a rose-tinted telescope

Lily Begg explores the cosmos


“You are my sun, my moon, and all my stars…” Oh, Cummings! You bore me with your clichés. When will all these star-crossed lovers learn to look beyond the very basics of the cosmos for romantic inspiration? Our adored “pale-faced moon” pales further into insignificance when compared to the infinity of what lurks far beyond it, so why be restricted to such over-used imagery? Although talk of black holes and the Theories of Relativity are rare in a lover’s lexicon, there’s little crime in being original and intelligent in our expression.

Poets have ventured very timidly into space imagery: sun, moon, stars, relatively plain elements of the universe which are all immediately visible with the naked eye. Stars are just balls of gas which emit light. The real hidden gems are collapsed stars.

Collapsing stars can create a black hole or, in very specific circumstances depending on pressure and chemical composition, a dying star can become a diamond with the same structure as one you would find in a ring, but unimaginably larger. In 2004, scientists discovered the largest space diamond yet, measuring 4000 km across—larger than the moon—and with a core composed of 10 billion trillion trillion carats. Such immense, dazzling gems are lodged in unknown corners of our universe, unseen by telescopes since they emit less light than ‘normal’ stars.

A by-product of a star dying is the dispersion of gas molecules thrown out as the star explodes or compresses. These rejected molecules eventually form gas clouds with those of other collapsed stars. Each gas cloud is a unique shape, colour and chemical composition, making hypnotic Holi-style appearances at the end of our telescopes.

And as much as poets praise the beautiful, they are irresistibly drawn toward the morose and the macabre, transforming death, decay and pain into beauty and art. Images of Hell, blood, worms, shadows, sleep, but what about black holes?

A black hole is formed when a dying star with sufficient mass is compressed to a tiny, incredibly dense core as it is sucked in by its own gravity. In the case of supermassive black holes, this core has an immensely powerful gravitational pull and mercilessly drags any surrounding matter into its heart. Even light is swallowed up, hence the appellation ‘black’ holes. However, black holes are incredibly unpredictable and even today we cannot claim to fully understand them. Sometimes they devour nearby stars, sometimes they stunt their growth, but black holes have also been known to accelerate the growth of new stars.

If you care to look, there is art wherever there is science. It is time to explore and exploit this. Look up at the stars and then beyond, for both poetry and space know no boundaries.

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