Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's the International Year of Astronomy!

Check out this website! It's a beautiful collaborative project by scientists from around the world, designed to bring astronomy to the masses!

Portal to the Universe

As a kid, I avidly learned the constellations, kept journals of the moon phases and followed the planets as they moved through the sky. One year, my parents got me a cherry red handmade ten inch reflector telescope on a Dobsonian mount. It came with the complete volumes of the Burnham's Celestial Handbook. I now had an excuse to get out of the house at night!

In 1994, when I was thirteen, the skies implored me to look repeatedly and I have not stopped watching since. May 10th, 1994, I watched the annular solar eclipse with my family through a piece of welder's glass. I sketched the sun every few minutes until the eclipse passed completely. Later in July, I watched the larger fragments of Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 hit Jupiter through "Cherry", the telescope. Like the 13-year-old I've been since, I let out cries of "Whoa!" and "Dude!" as dark plumes of impact the size of Earth spread across Jupiter. The estimated energy equivalent of Fragment G was 6,000,000 megatons of TNT (about 600 times the estimated arsenal of the world). Then, that August, the Perseid Meteor Shower rained hundreds of fast, bright meteors through the sky, caused by particles from Comet Swift-Tuttle burning through our atmosphere at around 132,000 miles per hour. One large fireball seared halfway through the sky, left a vapor trail that stayed for seconds after it burned away and could be heard crackling through the air!

In March 1996, the Comet Hyakutake passed very near Earth with its incredibly long tail, becoming the brightest comet seen since Comet West in 1976. Then almost exactly a year later the extraordinarily bright Comet Hale-Bopp passed Earth with its amazing display of split dust and ion tails. If Hale-Bopp had passed as close as Hyakutake, it would have been the brightest comet ever witnessed through human recorded history.

I feel lucky to have witnessed these things firsthand, not through books or television. These experiences allowed me to begin feeling like a part of the universe.

Earth is such a beautiful cell, but the body of the universe is magnificent, so keep looking up!

1 comment:

  1. You're so fantastic. Reminds me of A Language Older Than Words.