Thursday, November 20, 2008

Now For Something Out Of This World

Something I have yet blogged about is that I have an absolute fascination with space. I Tivo the series The Universe on the History Channel. I profess I don't always understand the physics but for the most part can follow along and understand it. With my nursing degree I had to take physics, chemistry, and biology so I do have a better than average understanding of science.

Part of what I like is the unbelievable vastness of space. The late Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhikers trilogy, described it best when he said:

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space."

It's humbling to think of how insignificant we are in our small portion of an arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Thinking of infinity is 'mind-boggling'. If you think of the farthest imaginable distance, there is still an infinite distance past that. Isn't that a cool thought?

What I like most though is the images of space. I have a six inch telescope that I am only learning to use but I can still get great shots of the moon, Jupiter with usually 3 or 4 of it's moons, Saturn with it's rings, among other things. I particularly like Jupiter. We look at it and the simple wonder is that this is another planet, and we can see it.

We have an observatory within driving distance of our house and the amateur astronomy club there is great. They have public viewing nights occasionally in which members bring out telescopes and set them up and let visitors use them. They also set up their large observatory telescope and let visitors view selected objects with this. I took my kids out there and they had a good time. We saw several nebulae and Jupiter far better than I can get with my scope. The people of the club are great and patient with answering questions from the kids.

We would see an image of a star cluster that appeared to be no bigger than about 3 or 4 inches across and we would find out this had a million stars in it. The cluster was 10 light years wide. This means the light from a star on one edge would take ten years to get to the opposite edge.

One of the nebulae we saw was 1200 light years from Earth. The kids were fascinated by this. This means that what we were looking at happened 1200 years ago. That was a cool thought. To put this into context, 1200 years ago the Mayan civilization was declining, the Holy Roman Empire was getting it's start, and Charlemagne is Emperor.

The point of this other than to take a break from politics and share a passion is, we need to step back sometimes and realize that what is happening in the world right now is only temporary. The election of Obama sucks. He's going to ruin the country. We still have people that want to do us harm just for the sake of unreasonable hatred. The economy is in the crapper.

I care about all of this, I think my blogs bear out the fact that I am quite passionate about it. Sometimes though, we have to step away from it all and recognize that there is something bigger than all of this. Just setting outside at night and staring at the sky can humble you. It does me.

I leave you with some incredible images from the Hubble Space Telescope courtesy of Fox News

The Sombrero galaxy, photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005.

Spiral galaxy M81 as seen from NASA Hubble Space Telescope in 2007.

NASA, ESA and M. Livio (STScI)
A pair of interacting galaxies called Arp 147 photographed by Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.


shoprat said...

I am fascinated that our astronomers have done what I thought was impossible at this point in time. Photographed an actual planet around another star.

MK said...

Well said Chuck. I've heard before that planet earth is like a grain of sand on a beach, in the context of space. Our squabbling and fighting and daily lives are really even smaller than small ants going about their business.

The nothing-ness is most sobering when you think about it like that.

Mustang said...

Beautiful pictures, Chuck. Thanks for sharing these. My son had a telescope a long time ago; neither of us had much luck learning how to aim it ... and the skies over San Diego were mostly overcast. I guess that's a plus living at the north pole, huh?

MK ... a long time ago, Dr. Seuss did a cartoon story (I cannot recall the name of it) where the characters on earth were shown to be mere specs of dust on another, much larger planet. I remember it blew my mind. I've not been normal sense. Do you think I have a lawsuit?

Semper Fi

Pasadena Closet Conservative said...

If you ever have a chance to get out to Pasadena, stop by the visitors center at Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a real treat. It's incredible what they do there...and way out "there".

Christopher Hamilton said...

Great pictures. I have to admit I'm not a big space person. I'm the one who changes the History Channel every time a space related show is placed on the air.

cube said...

Nice post. Somber events on Earth often make me look to the sky for some comfort and balance. Everything is dwarfed by the majesty of spacetime.

Brooke said...

Very lovely.

Astronomy is just fascinating, and even so we know so little.

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

I hope that a time comes when we will have discovered the means to traverse the great distance and barrier of space to explore other solar systems and galaxies.

Chuck said...

Sorry , I'm a little slow on the response, had to spend some time in the real world.

Shoprat, the best is yet to come. They are a launching a new and improved space telescope next year

MK, it's humbling. It does put things in perspective

Mustang, we're not quite that far north although as I type this we are getting snow

Pasadena, I would love to visit them

Christopher, I'm a space nut but I like quite a bit on the HIstory channel

Cube and Brooke, it's cool though that we continue to learn

Wordsmith, this would be great. There are theories about wormholes, etc. What was impossible 200 years ago is routine now...