Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Comfort in the arms of the cosmos

The night sky in November's New Hampshire is exceptionally dark. And since the last few nights have had just a sliver of moon, the Milky Way has been big, bright, and beautiful.

Wanna feel small? Bundle up, then lay on the ground and stare at the Milky Way. That cloudy band of light is billions of stars, dimmed and blurred by immersion in distance.

But it’s not just that. Now I'm going to try very hard to show you the Milky Way for the very first time.

You already know, that the Milky Way is also the name of our home galaxy. A flattened spiral, with wispy arms stretching across 100,000 light-years of space. Like this (which is a not-yet-possible picture by the way):

So the Milky Way is both?

How do we go from a Milky Way that is a faint band of light across the night sky, to a spiral galaxy of 100 billion stars?

Think about this... How can it be both?

Well, from where you’re laying on the surface of the earth, you look out into space along what’s called the Galactic Plane. Stars are more dense in the plane, and since we’re in one of the arms, it appears as a blurry band of light. Get it?... Not yet?

What it takes is a shift in perspective and this is where the power of visualization can help.

This Video Clip might be the first time you've ever seen the Milky Way for what it really is - our true place in the arms of a galaxy - the galaxy. Here's what will eventually happen when our Milky Way collides with our nearest neighbor galaxy, Andromeda.

When you look at the Milky Way in the night sky, what you're actually seeing is our galaxy on edge. It’s not just a band of ethereal light we call the Milky Way, it IS THE MILKY WAY! They are the same thing. Now do you get it? All it really takes is a change in perspective. (Music in this clip is borrowed from the original COSMOS Soundtrack. I recommend you purchase the DVD Box set)

I think about these things when I’m feeling particularly lonely. Then all I have to do is aim my gaze down, and I'm suddenly surrounded by good worldly stuff. Kind of like being in the arms of a galaxy – no not kind of – exactly!


Unknown said...

That's the problem with Boston....can't really see the stars too much. I'm totally jealous:)

Oika Rich said...

your jealousy makes me feel even more lucky.

Unknown said...

I was wondering where the music on the Carl Sagan portal was from. It's so good!.....very soothing. By the are you? :)