Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Intrepid Naturalists Travel Through Time!

The planet Mars (Wikimedia Commons)

When I was a child I was fascinated by astronomy and, through reading on my own, taught myself what then seemed like a great deal about the planets. Although I can still recite the planets in order (now leaving off poor Pluto), it seems that there is little else that I really know about our vast universe. I've been turning to some basic astronomy websites for some very, very basic information.

Our instructor at the Leasburg State Park star party told us:

Looking at the stars is a kind of time travel

It's a lovely statement, and a lot for my mind to get itself around. You've always known that abstract thinking is not my strength, so I'm sure you have absolutely no doubts now.

I looked at a site called Astronomy for Beginners. I found these statements under Basic Astronomy Facts. They clarify the idea of "star observation as time travel:"

When you look at the Andromeda galaxy (which is 2.3 million light years away), the light you are seeing took 2.3 million years to reach you. Thus you are seeing the galaxy as it was 2.3 million years ago.

Light from the sun takes 8 minutes to reach you, thus you see the sun as it was 8 minutes ago. It might have blown up 4 minutes ago and you wouldn't know about it!

Back at the star party, I was thrilled to be standing in the cold New Mexican night air, in a body I had just found out was made of stardust, looking through the universe and back into distant time.

If you would like to hear an explanation of space distances that even I can almost understand, go to Measuring Distance in the Universe, which is a thirty minute podcast on the website Astronomy Cast.


JC said...

I love reading your blog !!!

Owlfarmer said...

Thanks awfully for these last two posts. The time travel one reminded me of Carl Sagan's first Cosmos episode, in which he reminded us that we're all star stuff--and then I read below to find that you'd considered that aspect, too. I do so envy your New Mexico skies, which are so much clearer than ours here in the Dallas area.

Powell River Books said...

I'm so glad I found your blog through Skywatch. Looks like we have quite a bit in common. My husband Wayne is an astronomy buff from way back. We have a telescope at our float cabin and it works fine even on the deck. There isn't much motion unless it is stormy weather, but then you wouldn't be outside anyway. Mars has been particularly bright and red lately, but the most amazing image has been Sirius that has been flickering through all colours of the spectrum because of the atmosphere.

Speaking of New Mexico, we just had a friend move to Bellingham to stay at our condo while she finds a job and place of her own. Small world. - Margy