a deer herd
silent through the trees
the dogs freeze
he pushes away
the approaching toothbrush
late sunset fading
pointing towards Saturn
eyes open to wonder
At 5:20 am EDT on Mar. 29, 2011, MESSENGER captured this historic image of Mercury. This image is the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about the Solar System’s innermost planet. Over the subsequent six hours, MESSENGER acquired an additional 363 images before downlinking some of the data to Earth. The MESSENGER team is currently looking over the newly returned data, which are still continuing to come down.
Phil at Bad Astronomy has more including the name of that big crater, Debussy.
Yesterday, I wrote about the music I’ve been listening to while I work on my science fiction novel and music—a song anyway—is the inspiration for the setting, at least for now. It’s set on Mars at a research station near Olympus Mons, the massive shield volcano at the edge of the Tharsis region.
According to Wikipedia, Olympus Mons stands over 16 miles above the Martian surface and is 342 miles wide, about the size of the state of Missouri.
I don’t know if I’ll keep that site in the final draft, but the choice was inspired by the Pixies tune “Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons,” one of my all-time favorite Pixies songs. Okay, all Pixies songs are pretty much my all-time favorite Pixies songs, but really, I mean a song about a bird dreaming of flying around on another planet?
Did they write the song just for me?
Have a listen.
My dad called on Monday evening to say that my brother had called to tell him to check this cool alignment out.
I could see it to the west, above my house as I stood in the driveway. Venus is the one in the lower middle, and Jupiter is on the right. Through my binoculars, I could see the Galilean Moons.
I love when these kind of things happen out there. It’s a nice surprise to see these transitory patterns appear, forcing a second look. I wonder what, if anything, this might have signified in more primitive times.
In these times it is a nice reminder of the wonders one can see by doing nothing more difficult than looking up on a crisp autumn night.
That dot is the Space Shutte Discovery and the International Space Station. They flew over my house this evening, a bright star in a starless sky racing from Northwest to Southeast. I think they waved at me as I raised high a pint of Guinness.
It’s hard to imagine anything cooler.
Here’s a link to NASA’s satellite sighting info site, which gives sighting info for almost anywhere in the world.
Note: This post is part of the Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-Thon in honor of the tenth anniversary of Sagan’s death.
When I was a kid in DC, I used to love visiting the Air & Space Museum. I collected everything I could get from NASA and thrilled to the images that came back from the Vikings, Pioneers, and Voyagers. I also watched Cosmos even though I didn’t understand half of what Dr. Sagan was talking about.
What I did understand, what came through loud and clear, was that sense of wonder. That awareness that there were whole worlds happening out there. Here was a man who was humbled and in awe of this grand universe of which we’re only a small part. But here, too, was a man who wanted to know all the mysteries of the universe, who seemed to be seeking knowledge for its own sake and yet possessed of a desire to share that knowledge as if in sharing it he could fill us all with the kind of wonder that makes one recognize the preciousness of life.
I gained much from joining Carl on the deck of the Ship of the Imagination over the years. I found a love for knowing, not to be a know-it-all or to amuse friends with an impressive command of trivia, but for the kind of knowledge that fills the soul, fires the imagination, and makes us whole.
As an adult, I read Cosmos and Billions & Billions and was struck by not just his passion for scientific discovery but by his compassion for his fellow beings. One thing he said or wrote (I can’t remember) that has always stayed with me was something to the effect of “if we find life on Mars, then we must leave and not go back because then Mars would belong to the Martians.” It’s this desire for knowledge, this thrill of exploration tempered by a profound respect for and love of life that I most admired about Carl Sagan.
There’s another Carl connection in my life. When I was first getting to know the woman I would later marry, we found ourselves in a video store uninspired by the shelves of recent releases. Finally, she said, “Let’s watch a Carl.”
“You know. Cosmos. I love that stuff.”
I couldn’t believe it. Something in me knew that I’d found the person I wanted to share my life with. Here was someone who was as moved by the vastness and wonder of the universe as me. Someone who had gained at least a part of that from Carl Sagan.
I hadn’t seen Cosmos in years, but we rented “Blues for a Red Planet” and fell in love cruising with Carl on the Ship of the Imagination.
(Buzz Aldrin on the Moon – from Great Images in NASA. Click here for more.)
July 20, 1969, the day Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, is probably one of – if not the – most important dates in human history. Years after all of us who lived through it are gone, the Apollo Moon landings will probably be the main thing that school kids know about the 20th century.
Or they’ll remember the atom bomb, but I’m hoping that it’s to be the former.
When I think about how the Apollo program will be remembered, though, I think of historical analogies, and the exploration and colonization of the Americas by Europeans comes to mind. There was a time when I considered Apollo 11 to be analogous to Colombus’ voyage in 1492, but the way that manned space exploration has stalled in Earth orbit makes me wonder if it will be more of an historical footnote like the voyages of the Vikings to Newfoundland in the tenth century.
There is an editorial called “We Should Reach for the Moon” by Buzz Aldrin in today’s paper. He calls for a return to the Moon, a return to the kind of big space programs that challenge mankind to push past our limitations. There are so many benefits in terms of technology, medicine, science, and probably most important: inspiration.
We need to see things like this again.
(Earthrise – Apollo 8 – from Great Images in NASA. Click here for more.)
This Earthrise was taken in December of 1968 by the crew of Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon. The crew were the first people to see the Earth in its entirety.
This is probably my favorite photograph; certainly the most beautiful, the most amazing image I’ve ever seen. The stark contrast between the dead moon and the living Earth hanging in the infinite void of space is something that should humble us all. It should remind us of how fragile this planet is.
We need to see things like this again. We need to see the bigger picture. We need to be reminded that this Earth is all we have. We need to be reminded that we’re all in this together.
When the Apollo astronauts went to the moon, it wasn’t just NASA or America or the West going with them. It was all of humanity. Every citizen of every civilization that ever existed took those first steps with Neil Armstrong. His steps were a new beginning, but they were also the beginnning of the end of the Apollo program.
It’s past time for a new beginning.
We need this.
Last night, I got my telescope out for the first time in years and set it up in the driveway, which gave me a nice view of the Moon slipping below the roof of the house. Low in the sky and in its waxing crescent phase, the Moon looked beautiful to the naked eye. Through the ‘scope I just about got lost in the impact craters and mountains thrown into starkest relief by the sun’s light raking across its surface. I could have stared at it for hours, slowly tracking the telescope along the terminator, studying each mountain, each crater.
When it finally fell below the roof, I turned the ‘scope around to the east to try for a glimpse of the Pleiades, but a street light ruined the view so I’ll have to wait until later in the winter (or the night) to catch a better view when it clears the glare. I didn’t try for Mars for the same reason, but perhaps if I go to the backyard, I might be able to see it over the house, which might block the accursed light.
Sometimes you just have to stop running and look around. This morning, jogging under a crisp November sky, I couldn’t help but stare up at the stars shimmering brightly overhead. Jogging in a southwesterly direction, I had ample time to become engrossed with Sirius and Orion, my winter favorites.
This morning, the stars virtually popped out of the clear black in a way that makes me feel humble and lucky and aware all at once. It’s ironic that we so often miss these things that are so immense and jaw-droppingly awesome without really paying attention to what we’re actually looking at.
I remember from university astronomy classes many years ago that in the case of Orion, I was looking at a place where stars are forming. It’s hard for me to imagine anything more profound than that considering that the totality of everything we know and are exists only because one particular star formed.
Wanting a closer look and a chance to really see what I was seeing, I checked out some Hubble images courtesy of NASA’s GRIN Library and found these (which you can click for more learned info from NASA):
Just knowing what’s out there even though it isn’t visible stirs the imagination. It’s as thrilling as looking up in the direction of Cygnus X-1 on a summer evening and knowing there’ s a black hole there even though you can’t see it. Just knowing it’s there, all there, all happening indifferent to our presence, is a pretty amazing – and strangely uplifting – thought.