There’s a lot of science that’s kind of boring if you don’t understand it or its implications. I get that. But there’s also a lot of stuff that’s awesome in the world of science, despite being almost literally unbelievable when you first hear about it. This is one that I was perusing recently that, upon further thought, is hilarious if you have a dirty mind. I’ll show you.
In that image, you see long, orange, cone-shaped clouds with little blue tips. I’ve zoomed in and highlighted one of the little blue balls (shut up) to isolate it for you. Looks like your typical space picture, right? Pretty colors, clouds of gas and dust, etc.
Great. Actually, that little blue ball (shut UP) is a spherical cloud of iron gas at roughly 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It is traveling through a cloud of hydrogen that you can’t see because it’s too thin and cold until that superheated iron bullet crashes through it and heats it up to around 4,000 degrees just by the sheer energy of hitting it. Then that gas trails away in its wake, leaving those cones.
So now you know it’s moving. What you don’t know is how fast it’s actually moving. It turns out that those little spherical clouds of gas are moving at roughly 250 miles per SECOND. You can see how the awesome is starting to build, can’t you? Glowing blue balls of iron tearing through space at incredible speeds? Good stuff. But it gets better.
Go back and look at that little circle that the yellow arrow is pointing to. How big do you think that is? Big, sure. It’s space. Everything’s big. But maybe the size of a planet. Maybe, if you think in grandiose terms, the size of a star or a couple times wider than that.
That little blue sphere — that teensy blue speck in the midst of all the other tumultuous crap going on in that photo — is ten times wider than the orbit of Pluto around the Sun. It’s sixty billion miles wide. If our sun was the size of the ball in a ballpoint pen, that thing would be the size of the Epcot globe. It’s fucking gigantic, is what I’m getting at, which makes the speed even more mind-blowing. Like the difference between a gun that shoots bullets and a gun that shoots oil tankers.
And I’m not even done yet. Consider this image.
That zooms out to show you the giant structure from which these things are emanating. That huge cloud that looks kind of like an apple is called the Orion Nebula, and it’s one of the best looks we have at the environments under which stars form. It’s only 1,500 light years away and it’s very active, so in galactic terms it’s like pressing our noses against the nursery glass in the star maternity ward.
We don’t care about that. What we care about is where in the sky the Orion Nebula is located. Here’s a zoomed-out shot of it.
Now, if you learned your Greek mythology as a sixth grader, you no doubt recognize that as Orion, and you’re now thinking “hey look, the Orion Nebula is located right in his scabbard!” Oh, you poor naive little thing.
There aren’t many sources for the origins of the Orion story, but not one of them mentions him having a sword. As in, a sword for which he might need a scabbard. That thing in his hand over his head is a club, which is mentioned in the myths. His shield is mentioned. The lion (Leo) in front of him is accounted for, as are the two dogs (Canis Major and Minor) behind him. But no sword. You might see what I’m getting at here.
Just in case you don’t, I’m going to tell you a story about the birth of Orion. According to myth, the gods Zeus, Hermes and Poseidon come to visit Hyrieus of Tanagra (doesn’t matter who he is), who roasts a whole bull for them. When they offer him a favor, he asks for the birth of sons. Rather than just magicking him a son or magicking his wife pregnant or just telling him to go and fuck her because it’s not a complicated process, the gods take the bull’s hide (from the bull they just ate) and jerk off into it. All of them, together. Then they bury it in the earth and tell him to dig it up ten months later. When he does, he finds Orion; this explains why Orion is earthborn.
You see the kind of tone we’re working with here. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which is basically the best source of Greek myth we have, is absolutely choked to the gills with rape and semen and murder and more rape and huge penises and rampant naked debauchery. That’s how the Greeks thought. Or at least it’s how they wrote.
So put that all together and you start to get the feeling that that’s not Orion’s scabbard.
It’s his huge, swinging dick.
The Greeks never say that exactly, but this same constellation was isolated and written about by a lot of ancient cultures, from the Egyptians to the Norse to the Babylonians, and it’s always a guy with an enormous dick.
So what have we learned here?
That Orion the Hunter, the guy who was murdered by the gods via a giant scorpion because he wouldn’t stop bragging, the guy who was put in the sky to fight a lion with his dogs for the rest of eternity because the gods hated him (but dammit did they respect him), is hung like a goddamn rhinoceros. The Greeks knew that millennia ago. Thousands of years later, modern astronomers discovered that not only is Orion packing more than any human being, real or otherwise, has ever packed, but he’s spraying enormous globs of white-hot iron mancake batter, doubtless as impressive as the leather sack full of divine ball juice from which he was birthed in the first place, all over the goddamn galaxy.
What a fucking badass.