By Thomas Lucas
I unfolded the newspaper, and saw it immediately. Even as a sci-fi fan, I had never imagined anything like it. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope had announced the discovery of a "Black Hole" that was THREE BILLION times the mass of our own sun. Never mind the question of what a black hole is, I knew that this was a television series.
That sense of amazement never left me during two years of researching, writing, filming and editing "Mysteries of Deep Space." During that time, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured ever more stunning views of the events that shape our universe. There are gigantic stars that live out their short violent lives and blow themselves to smithereens. There are galaxies, like our Milky Way, that collide with unimaginable force; or clouds of gas that suddenly coalesce to form stars, and planets and moons.
Do astronomers respond to all this like I did? Do they travel to remote observatories only to write technical papers and lecture to bedazzled students? Do they simply gather their data and tweak their instruments without thinking much about the reality of the stars and galaxies they study? Not at all. We encountered many astronomers that seemed to be bursting with amazement at what they were observing.
Take Alex Filippenko, who studies exploding stars, called supernovas, because it illuminates for him our own origins in the universe. Then there's Sandy Faber... Who speaks of a "beautiful river of time" from the earliest moments of the universe, to the formation of galaxies and stars, then planets and finally life itself. It was Sandy who told us that her familiarity with the universe has led her to think of the thousand-odd galaxies near the Milky Way as our "neighborhood."
During the production of the series we traveled to mountaintop observatories on three continents. There, astronomers witness events whose power and scale are far beyond our experience. They see the universe in action: in black holes that are swallowing stars, or in cataclysmic explosions whose light has been traveling for billions of years... And just now reached us!
For my own part, the power of that first impression of a gigantic black hole was equaled only by one other. At an observatory in the Andes Mountains, several Chilean astronomers invited us to look through a large telescope that they had lined up on one of the most familiar celestial objects of all. It was the moon, and it was more beautiful than I'd ever seen it before. The astronomers had brought its chalk-colored landscape into sharp focus. One day astronomers hope to set up an array of telescopes there. In our time, the Hubble Space Telescope is providing images of unprecedented clarity and depth. Imagine what those large instruments will reveal!