“Pairadise” and the Pleiades

Pairadise, Mark Ellis

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.

Sunday Funnies #11

The latest strip from Calamities of Nature.

The Most Astounding Fact

Late last night, I received a link to this video from one of my former students, and as my daughter and I have been spending a great deal of time looking at the heavens through our telescope lately, it seemed perfectly appropriate and too good not to pass along.

In this short clip Neil deGrasse Tyson answers the question, “What is the most astounding fact that you can share with us about the Universe?” His answer reminds us that we a part of this magnificent and incredible universe… all of us. It’s the same message that Sagan had when he said that “we are star-stuff,” or when said that “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself. We are creatures of the cosmos and always hunger to know our origins, to understand our connection with the universe.”

When I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up – many people feel small, ’cause they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big because my atoms came from those stars.

So as Jack Horkheimer used to say “keep looking up!” And when you do, feel big.

Madison Sees Venus

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.

Beside a Giant

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

Beautiful Alignment

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.

Cosmological Matryoshkas!

I saw these last night on Open Parachute, and immediately went on a hunt to find out how to acquire them. The bad news, they are not for purchase, but the story behind them is sweet. They were made as a gift, by a man whose girlfriend was studying astronomy, the best “just because” gift I have ever seen.