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When Oregon Coast Creatures Resemble the Vast, Interstellar Depths of the Universe

Published 03/16/2014

By Andre' Hagestedt

(Oregon Coast) – Maybe it's just me and my imagination – in fact it probably is – but it sometimes simply floors me how the bigger things in the universe can resemble those in the ocean, particularly the waters of the Oregon coast. It's almost as if there's a massive fractal design to the cosmos, on some sort of galactic scale, where what is called self-similarity goes inward and outward in the grand scheme of things. Those tiny objects beneath the ocean can often starkly resemble the mind-bogglingly big behemoths amidst the stars.

For a long time, I'd see the surreal creatures floating in the tanks of the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport or Seaside Aquarium on the north Oregon coast and think how they sometimes looked just like the colorful nebulae photographed by the Hubble telescope.

All marine animal photos here are taken by Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium, including the Basket Star, above.

Case in point: the basket star. This meandering creature suddenly looked even more familiar when I started learning about dark matter – that mysterious substance in the universe no one really understands, but scientists know it's there through a variety of means. They say even though we can't really see it (yet), it's believed to make up about a quarter of the matter in the universe.

Deep space photos and computer simulations in recent years have come up with something remarkable: these images of what is called a cosmic web. It shows the clusters of dark matter and the filaments between them. This is largely the space between galaxies we're talking about. (Image credits: Anatoly Klypin and Joel Primack, inset via S. Cantalupo.)

And what does it look like? I was rather astonished at the similarity.

Then there are these photos from Boothe, showing two different kinds of jellyfish she has found on the beaches and then resurrected in aquarium tanks. Among them: the comb jelly (sometimes called a Gooseberry).

Aside from looking a lot like this shot from the Hubble – a starburst galaxy – fans of the video game Crysis may also see something familiar.

What started me thinking more about it all this week was this amazing rendition of a giant gas cloud closing in on a black hole in the center of our galaxy. It was big news.

The computer rendition again reminded me of all the odd creatures I'd seen at the aquariums of the Oregon coast, including a form of sea slug called a nudibranch. These enormously colorful creatures are all reminiscent of something larger on intergalactic scales, especially one called the Diaulula sandiefen. This one in particular looked as if it was a gas cloud near a black hole as well.

You can see even more of these at this story about nudibranchs – sea slugs.

Then there are Lyman-Alpha blobs – the largest objects in the universe. They can get around 300,000 light years across, and they are apparently all glowing gas.

A recent story Oregon Coast Beach Connection had about small creatures living on a rope at the Seaside Aquarium reminded me of these wacky objects. It also resembles interstellar nursery shots we've all seen from the Hubble.

I supposed if you want to get truly alien, but in a more pop culture way, then there's this wild one taken by Boothe. It's a tiny unborn squid inside its egg. The size is about a fingernail or so. Remind you of anything? Remember the aliens in Independence Day? Particularly that scene near the end where Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum waste the invader with a nuke.

All these creatures and other dreamlike critters are on display at the Seaside Aquarium and Oregon Coast Aquarium. As far as catching glimpses of the big interstellar stuff, I suppose you'll have to stick with the Internet as I do. More Oregon coast science.

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