I Just Think Nebulae Are Pretty Neat

I love looking at space pictures. I prefer looking at pictures of nebulae, especially different pictures of the same nebula captured using different lenses, different filters, different anything. It’s so amazing to see how different the world looks if you capture the light using something other than human eyes. Like, most giant clouds of space dust look kinda bland to the human eye, but point the right camera at them and suddenly they’re a visual feast, so many different colors and intensities mixing together.

I don’t really know a lot about space beyond the general stuff and the easily verified things that come up in sci-fi media. I know more about various real and theoretical means of traveling through space than I know about things outside our solar system. Part of that is motivated by day-to-day limitation: since I have limited time and limited energy, I have to choose what to prioritize when I have time to learn stuff. But part of it is motivated by the desire to feel wonder. I could learn all about nebulae and planets and dust clouds and comets and asteroid belts and so on, or I could know just enough to appreciate the cool pictures I’m looking at.

Learning to understand the world around you is important, and more knowledge is a good, if sometimes costly, thing. But most of that comes up in the context of practicality and the world around us. We should understand the things that impact our lives and how we can impact the world and other lives around us, of course, but when it comes to instellar bodies thousands of lightyears away, I feel like it’s fine to just look at the pretty pink-orange swirling dust clouds without clicking the education link beneath the picture that tells you everything about it.

The best part about most of this kind of wonder is that if I do get curious, I can click the link and learn everything we know about it (according to whatever the source is) in a paragraph or less. The Lagoon Nebula is gorgeous, easily one of my favorites to look at, and we know there is evidence of star formation in a certain section of it. And that it looks grey to the naked eye, but has a brilliant pink and orange color if we use the right camera. Every image we have of it shows a state it was in thousands of years ago, so who knows what it looks like now? It could have been eaten by a Very Hungry Gatalactic Caterpillar or sucked up by an Astral Void Vacuum because it turns out that Galactic Colossai move super slowly and were taking a long time to get around to cleaning up the mess they made when they spilled their pre-workout protein powder on their Galactic Hover Floor.

I’m probably not right about any of that, but I could be! We’ve been looking at space for a blip in the history of our planet, let alone the history of the universe, so maybe we’re just missing the mechanics of a world that operates on a scale so big and so long (time-wise) that we can’t even comprehend it. I’m sure there are people out there with a better understanding than I have, who can speak more definitively about the universe and what goes on in the sections far away from us (which is all of it, basically), but I like not knowing. I like wondering and imagining.

This may just be my artistic sentiments, but being able to say that no one really knows is the most freeing thing imagineable. That space is where I like to live. It’s why I hesitate to record things and don’t make creative worldbuilding decisions I don’t need to make ahead of time. I’ll do stuff like figure out climate and crops and general economics, but that leaves all of the spaces between those large decisions for players (for D&D) or readers (for books and blog stuff) to ask what might be there and for a collaborative solution. Well, more directly collaborative in TTRPGS and less directly in hands-off media. Regardless, my favorite thing to say is “who knows?” as a lead in to an opportunity for creativity.

I mean, it needs to be genuine, you know? A “we don’t know, yet” instead of a “we don’t know and who cares.” Laziness is not the same as an opportunity for wonder. Anyway, I saw some cool space pictures while doing research for the intersection of a “Science-Fantasy” D&D campaign and a “High Fantasy” D&D campaign, and I’m excited about what that intersection might lead to. And, you know, cool nebula pictures.

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