Shakespeare in Space #2: Stars, Hide Your Fires

1,400 light years away from Earth: Ignition
Image Credit: ESO/M. McCaughrean, modified by Dan Levesque.

At the center of the above image—the dark space between what look like large flames—is a star no more than a few thousand years old. If stellar lifespans were transposed over human lifetimes, our sun's 4.6 billion years would be the equivalent of an adult in his/her late 30's. This young protostar would then be akin to a newborn some 30 minutes old.

Known as Herbig-Haro object 212, this stellar newcomer is still in the midst of forming into a full-fledged star, a process which can take millions of years. As clouds of dust and gas gather in space, gravity slowly pulls the material together, causing it to spin faster and hotter while becoming more and more dense. Eventually, this material forms into a dense enough sphere that it ignites as a star. 

The fiery-looking material radiating from the protostar is caused by shock-waves colliding with the interstellar medium (composed of gas and dust) at hundreds of kilometers per second. These shock-waves result from the explosive force of nuclear fusion being triggered at the center of the star—early star formation is often chaotic, with blowouts like this reminiscent of a wailing infant being birthed into the cosmos. 

The quote below originates from Shakespeare's Macbeth, in which the title character states:


"Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires"

Macbeth plans to murder the King of Scotland in order to seize the throne for himself, but hopes to "Let not light see" his dark ambitions—light represents both the order of the cosmos (the heavens, god) and any enemies who may act as a foil to his grand plans. 

Before Macbeth utters this line to himself, King Duncan (whom he will soon murder) utters a contrasting line:


"Signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine on all deservers."
Image Credit: ESO/M. McCaughrean.

When a new star is born, a cosmic blowout announces its existence. The protostar at the center of this blowout remains invisible due to the large amounts of gas and dust still surrounding it (material which will eventually form planets), but these bright jets betray its existence—a royal introduction to the darkness space.

Similarly, when a new King is ordained, his kingship is made official with a crown—a band of gold surrounding the scalp of its wearer, signifying that at the center of the crown is a man above all other men.

Macbeth's actions and the events which transpire in his treasonous apprehending of the throne reveal his guilt; although no empirical evidence links him to the king's murder, circumstance serves as his judge. Herbig-Haro objects are also unique in that, although their cause cannot be directly observed (the star shrouded by gas and dust), the protruding shock-waves confirm that a star must exist at the center. 

Alfred the Great, first King of England.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Every star in the cosmos represents its own kingdom—just as our sun is the ruler of our solar system, so too is each respective star ruler of its own system of planets, comets, and asteroids—hundreds of billions of unique kingdoms in the Milky Way alone. And this stellar crown is symbolic of the crowns of Earthly kings.

Macbeth's call for the stars to hide their fires is a sign of shame. Although his desire for kingly power is great, he knows that the only way to attain that power is by shameful treason. Either literally (by not murdering the king) or figuratively (being dishonorable), Macbeth can never truly be king, even if he gains the crown. 

The realm of mankind is often far more dramatic than the realm of the cosmos. If the plot of Macbeth were to play out on the cosmic level, it would be like the planet Jupiter conspiring to murder the Sun in order to become ruler of our solar system. But alas, Saturn will protect us from such travesty. 

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