If you’re like me and have been watching Venus and Jupiter dance in the night sky these past weeks, then this stunning photograph by Mark Ellis will certainly delight. It was taken on a beach in Maui, and the juxtaposition of that indigo sky with the almost otherworldly clouds and terrain makes this a truly incredible image. And look at how beautifully bright Venus is! Jupiter is slowly pulling away from Venus now, but the pair can still be seen in the night sky for a little while longer.
Despite how bright Venus is, I can’t stop looking at the Pleiades peeking out from behind the clouds. Since I was old enough to recognize that particular group of stars, I’ve always loved looking for them in the night sky. As a child of maybe eight or so, while at my family’s little horse ranch, I would spend hours laying on the grass looking up the stars, often focusing on just the “Seven Sisters,” imagining myriad stories of who these mysterious sisters were (I only knew then what the constellation was called, not the mythology behind it), and why they were shining so brightly in my sky. Many years ago in my early twenties, I had the pleasure of spending some time with a Lakota medicine woman, Barrett Eagle Bear, and I remember being enraptured by her telling of the Lakota story of this particular constellation. The story of seven young girls who, over seven days, were taken up to the sky by an eagle. The eagle was defeated and the girls were returned to earth, but their spirits remained in the sky.
I often write about the sky in this blog, and it’s because it has a similar effect on me as do great books and beautiful art… it stirs both my emotions and my intellect. So I’ll keep looking up, as should all of you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.. our universe is a pretty amazing place.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the sky has been amazing lately, and my daughter and I have definitely been taking advantage of it. We have spent a good part of nearly every night this week looking up.
This past Tuesday, as we drove home in the evening, my daughter was absolutely fascinated by the sky. She was thrilled at the thought that the planets and the moon were “following us home,” and wanting to take advantage of her curiosity, we took the telescope out as soon as we got home and pointed it right towards the incredibly bright Venus. Here is the photograph of my daughter seeing Venus for the first time. I has to be my favorite picture of her. I was carrying her so that she could reach the telescope and she was just about squirming out of my arms to get a better look.
Cassini seems to be taking the most breathtaking photographs lately. Here is another one of Saturn, this time with its enormous moon Titan. Just to get a little sense of scale, Titan is larger than the planet Mercury, and it would be a planet in its own right were it not for its location in Saturn’s orbit. Here, however, it seems so small next to the giant planet and the shadows of its rings. You can also just make out Prometheus… it’s the tiny speck above the rings on the far right.
So breathtakingly beautiful.
Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
As you already know, I’m constantly looking up at the moon and stars. This past Friday night as I headed out to dinner with my daughter, the sky was especially stunning. My daughter saw it first and pointed it out. Jupiter, Venus and our Moon were perfectly aligned, and the moon, an impossibly thin crescent, was illuminated by earthshine. Just beautiful.
I recently wrote, as part of the Thirty Day Book Challenge, a post about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the young-adult novel by Ransom Riggs. It came recommended by my students, and as I wrote in the entry for that day’s challenge (favorite Y/A novel), I really enjoyed the book. My favorite part, however, was not necessarily the narrative, although it was certainly enjoyable. The best part of the book, for me at least, were all the old photographs.
My great-grandmother's engagement photo, taken sometime in the mid-1920s.
I have always loved looking at old photos, especially of people who I don’t know, and thinking of all the possible back-stories that could have led to the moment the photograph was taken. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with four generations living under the same roof, and when I was young I would spend countless hours lost in my great-grandmother’s photo albums, creating different stories each time I leafed through those pages. There was a certain attractive combination of mystery and nostalgia (even for something I never knew) when I looked at old photographs, that exerted an almost gravitational force. I would really lose myself in my great-grandmother’s old photo albums, being unconsciously careful not to tear the brittle, black pages, but entirely consumed by all those unknown histories. Now, as I take photos documenting my own family’s life, I often wonder if many years from now someone will be sifting through them, creating their own narratives for us, inventing our pasts, and wondering whatever became of us.
Last night, as I was laying in bed and catching up on some reading, I came across this on LibriCritic; a video created and narrated by Ransom Riggs about his passion for old photographs.
For a wonderful and informative discussion of this image of Saturn and its moon, visit Bad Astronomy, and as Phil Plait so eloquently reminds us towards the end of his post,
…in science, there’s no such thing as just a pretty picture. Science is a tapestry, a vast complex fabric interwoven with countless threads. Each of those threads is amazing, each important, and each leads to another. And that’s where the true beauty of science lies.
I’ve always found photos of the night sky to be particularly humbling and awe-inspiring. Living in a big city where light-pollution barely allows me to make out the major constellations, photos like these remind me of what a magnificent world we live in, and in the case of these images taken by photographer Royce Bair, that is certainly true.
In these photos we’re reminded how simply stunning our planet and our galaxy are. We have a beautiful home and would be remiss if we didn’t take the time, now and then, to allow ourselves to be awed.