Busting Another MYTH - The Eye of God?

Sunday, January 01 2006 @ 02:59 pm EST

Contributed by: bobmoody

I received another of those ridiculous "chain-letter style" emails this week. It tells me that by looking at an image of a celestial object, wonderful things will happen in my life. Do I believe it? Not in a million years!

Is this the "Eye of God"? No. But through the power of suggestion, those who don't know better may be influenced to believe that somehow, it IS!

You can not imagine how I laughed when I saw this email this past week. Similar to the old "chain letter" scams I'm urged to send this on to at least 7 other people, presumably those that I care about. It says that this photo "is a very rare one, taken by NASA." The words further claim that "this kind of event occurs once in 3000 years", and it will somehow "[do] miracles in many lives" and all we have to do is look at the picture and "Make a wish" because you have just gazed upon "The Eye of God".

Whether I believe this email's claims or not, I'm encouraged to send it out to "at least 7 people" and I should expect wonderful things to happen in my life within 24 hours. HOGWASH!!!

This image is of a planetary nebula known famously as "The Helix Nebula", and it's anything but rare. The Helix has been known to exist and has been under constant observation around the planet since the 1700's. There is no "event" here that occurs every 3000 years unless maybe it's that another star in our particular region of the Milky Way galaxy finishes using its supply of nuclear fuel and finally dies to create another similar-looking nebula. I understand enough about the processes, and the number of available stars in our area, and how often such nebulas occur to say with confidence that there are more likely hundreds of similar objects produced every 300 years, and many, many more would be likely in 3000 year timespan. There is absolutely nothing special, or unusual, or devine about this object.

I'm not blind. I do see a very unmistakable resemblance to a human eye, and a blue one at that. But with all that redness around the edges, it looks a little irritated. A good candidate for Visine. The Hubble Space Telescope has to do some tricky maneuvering to even get an object of this size completely covered for the entire image. Hubble's field-of-view is only about 1/20th of the area covered in this image. Closer inspection of the individual frames by Hubble revealed delicate "comet-like" protrusions around the inside perimeter of the Helix all pointed away from the central white dwarf star that ejected this material several thousand years ago. (see the next image)

Click read more for the rest of this story, and for a website dedicated to helping debunk all similar myths like this one.

Comet-like "fingers" all pointing away from the central area of the Helix Nebula are evident in this close-up Hubble image.
At the Helix's known distance of 450 light-years from Earth, we can calculate that each of these cometary objects are several billion miles across, with tails stretching several hundred billion miles away from the "heads". Our solar system out to the orbit of Uranus or Neptune could easily fit inside any of these comet-like objects shown here. These objects are thought to be denser pockets of cold gas and dust expelled from the parent star sometime before it lost its atmosphere to form the nebula. The areas where this denser material is found is simply slowing the progress of the nebula's expansion due to the high-speed wind being released by the extremely hot white dwarf star at the center of the nebula.

There are hundreds of nebulae similar to "The Helix" within reach of amateur telescopes in our little corner of the Milky Way. All such planetary nebulae are dead and dying old stars that have used up their hydrogen fuel and evolved past the so-called "red giant" phase and then lose their gravitational grip on the outer envelopes of their atmospheres thus producing the characteristic shape, usually round, that gives them their name in the first place. Many of the brighter ones resembled round "planets" to the astronomers of mid-18th century Europe and the name has been associated with this type of object ever since.

The entire idea behind this story is to dispell the notion that something that is simply suggested as being "The Eye of God" should have no legitimacy attached to it for anyone who is scientifically literate. That's the real problem with the majority of people in American society, the inability to discern what is scientifically explainable instead of allowing one's self to be deluded into believing that a well-known object might be associated with a Devine being, not to mention the fact that readers of the email are supposed to have magically improved lives within 24 hours after having simply looked at the object in the image. It is shameful, that the vast majority of Americans (estimated to be 4 out of 5) can NOT understand the simplest scientific jargon associated with the Tuesday edition of the New York Times Science pages, nor can they understand a majority of science-related TV programs such as NOVA on PBS. It should surprise no one that our American High School students score such poor grades in areas of mathematics and science compared to their foreign counterparts in most other areas of the world.

And that is also why we exist as an amateur astronomical society, to help people see and learn about the differences between things just like this bogus email. Who knows how many people were taken in by the charlatan who dreamt up this idea to begin with. It may be that whoever started it did so because they understood how gullible uninformed people can be. All that we in AOAS try to do is to help folks learn the difference between what is phony, like astrology, and what is scientific fact, like astronomy. There's also a wonderful website dedicated to helping do this, too. Just click Bad Astronomy for copious amounts of extra ammunition for your own myth debunking conversations.

I have faith that we will continue to make progress towards a day when people are not so easily taken in by such claims, and will stop allowing themselves to be made fools of by those who choose to perpetuate ignorance over knowledge.

After explaining what we know this object to be, I am choosing to include the email that accompanied this well-known image. Take note of the misspelled words, the poor grammar, and the overall look and feel of a 12-year-old author. After all, I AM supposed to send it to 7 other people, right? And, well heck, I could use a miracle today, too!

Dear All:

This photo is a very rare one, taken by NASA. This kind of event occurs once in 3000 years.

This photo has done miracles in many lives. Make a wish ... you have looked at the eye of God. Surely you will see the changes in your life within a day. Whether you believe it or not, don't keep this mail with you. Pass this at least to 7 persons.

This is a picture NASA took with the Hubbell telescope. Called "The Eye of God." Too awesome to delete. It is worth sharing.

During the next 60 seconds, Stop whatever you are doing, and take this opportunity. (Literally it is only One minute!) Just send this to people and see what happens. Do not break this, please.

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