Need a break from all the drama. Go out and look to your southern sky (from the northern hemisphere).
The two largest planets in our solar system are rapidly approaching their first conjunction since 2000 and their closest conjunction since 1623.
Conjunction is an astronomical term for two objects appearing close together in the sky when viewed from Earth.
All summer, Saturn has appeared to chase Jupiter across the sky each night. On December 21, the Winter Solstice, the heavenly bodies will appear just 0.1 degrees apart. That’s 1/5th diameter of a full moon.
Here they are tonight zoomed all the way with my phone camera. This image was with a three second exposure.
Just in case no one else has reminded you today, you are awesome!
Halley’s Comet is certainly history’s most famous comet, but many other comets have unique distinctions. Often new technological advances make things possible that had not been before. This mix timing and technology happened with Donati’s Comet (aka The Great Comet of 1858).
We were now 32 years into the age of photography and almost 10 years beyond the first successful photograph of the moon when Italian astronomer Giovanni Donati observed a comet approaching Earth in June 2, 1858.
By August the comet was visible to the naked eye. By late September the comet was exceptionally bright and close to Earth. Early astrophotographers began training their equipment on the comet. It’s debatable who captured the first image of the comet, but there’s no doubt it was history’s first photographed comet.
The first officially recognized photograph was taken by Brit W. Usherwood. He used a f/2 portrait lens with a seven second exposure on September 27. The following evening, September 28, G.P. Bond at the Harvard College Observatory caught the first image of a comet with a telescope. He used a 15-inch plate and a 6-minute exposure.
The comet reached its brightest on October 10. It was the second brightest comet of the 19th century after The Great Comet of 1811. It was observable for 270 days a record that held until the appearance of Hale-Bopp on 1997. The exact period of the comet is unknown, but estimates at the time were between 1880 and 1950 years. If accurate, it means we won’t see this comet again until late in the fourth millenium.
Usherwood’s photograph has not survived. The above image is another photo taken that same week in September 1858.
In case no one els3 has reminded you today, you ARE awesome!
My grandmother was a poet. Back in my teens and twenties I wrote poetry too. I penned (literally) this poem back in 1991. It recalled a time when I was eight years old looking at the night sky through my grandmother’s binoculars. Enjoy!
“THE LITTLE STARGAZER”
Little boy eight years old dreaming of adventures bold. peering up into the sky at points of shining light.
Busy counting all the stars through grandma’s old binoculars. Wondering who might live out there Perhaps a race advanced and fair.
Making plans one day to go Out beyond our tiny globe. Journey to the star fields bright Out amid the scattered light.
Twenty years since that summer night Spent scanning distant stellar light. Still search that dazzling canopy For someone staring back at me.
The late Carl Sagan became a household name in the 1980s with his PBS series Cosmos. Johnny Carson made his “billions and billions” catchphrase famous. He wrote the book – Contact – that became my all-time favorite movie. He recorded the greeting from humanity on the gold record placed aboard the Voyager 2 spacecraft that now soars through interstellar space on a rendezvous with Alpha Centauri in 40,000 years or so.
Sagan was a man of science who understood the value of spirit as well. Picking from his many amazing quotes is a challenge. Here are four I hope will inspire your day.
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. ~Stephen Hawking
I first became aware of Stephen Hawking in a bookstore back in 1988. While searching for the latest Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, I came across an interesting looking book titled A Brief History of Time. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about popular physics at the time and Hawking’s book was among the best I’d read. He was among the first to try to describe what being inside a black hole would be like and, of course, he believed he’d found a mathematical equation for the beginning of the universe that required no care-taker God.
A couple years later he appeared on my favorite TV show – Star Trek: The Next Generation – in a holodeck scene with Data, an actor playing Albert Einstein and an actor playing Isaac Newton. The scene was a humorous one with Data playing poker with his idols. Hawking made the scene by dissing on Einstein, something he did in the real world quite a bit as well.
His intellect was known the world over, as was his famous electronic voice made necessary by his Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). It certainly is a triumph of the human spirit to achieve all he achieved while battling such a devastating disease.
In recent years, he used his platform to warn about the perils of our modern society, including climate change, artificial intelligence, and the dangers posed to humanity by contact with advanced extraterrestrial civilizations. While I may not have always agreed with his conclusions, the fact that he was saying it always required one to stop and think.
The world has lost a one-of-a-kind. I hope he finds peace back in the place that precedes his quantum singularity.