Science

Staring at Nothing


—for Dr. Robert Williams, astronomer

Edited by Dava Sobel

What are you staring at? said the mother,

said the cousin, said the teacher to the child—
Nothing, he said. Then his wife asked. Nothing.

Nothing and more nothing and nothing more.

What a waste of time, said his colleagues,
valuable time. People would kill for that.

One December for ten nights and a hundred

hours, he stared at nothing. He looked at where

there wasn’t anything but nothing, more nothing,

and nothing more. Nothing but death and birth

merging into light—collisions of blue,

red, yellow, white. Spirals, ellipticals, nothing

but the universe quintupling in size. What wasn’t

is teeming with galaxies, gleaming innumerably.

It’s nothing, said he. Look at nothing to see.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In December 1995 astronomer Robert Williams took a risk that was mocked by his colleagues at the Space Telescope Science Institute. As director, Williams used his discretionary time with the Hubble Space Telescope to point at nothing—an apparently empty spot of sky—over a 10-day period. The astounding revelation of thousands of galaxies is now known as the legendary Hubble Deep Field.

 

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