This is a photo of the Earth, taken by Voyager 1 at a distance of over 6 billion kilometers. the Earth is the little bright spot in the upper right; probably about 4–8 pixels:


A bit of eloquence once written about that photo:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

–Carl Sagan

Lunar Eclipse on the Solstice!

December 21, 2010 is the winter solstice this year, the shortest day of the year, and the first day of winter.

the moon will be full.

In the early morning, the full moon will be passing directly through the northern half of the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow (the umbra), i.e., a full lunar eclipse will be visible to almost all of North America!

The eclipse starts at 12:30 AM Eastern Standard Time (Tuesday morning). That’s when the moon enters the Earth’s penumbra. You won’t see anything too exciting, though, until 1:32 AM Eastern, when the moon begins entering the darker umbra. The moon’s disc will look like a bite has been taken out of it, and as the bite increases in size the moon will change color, from white to either a coppery color (if you have clean skies) to dark red (if you have dusty, dirty skies).

The moon should be fully eclipsed between 2:40 AM and 3:53 AM Eastern time.

if you want to run out and see just the best parts, I like when the total eclipse first starts (at 2:40 AM Eastern, 1:40 AM Central, 12:40 AM Arizona); the first little nibble out of the moon looks very trippy, and you almost can’t tell if it’s an optical illusion or not. And then the time of greatest eclipse is 3:16 AM Eastern time (2:16 AM Central, 1:16 AM in Arizona).

First Telescope Pics

Just held the digital camera to the eyepiece and shot some pictures.

To get the moon to come out at all, I set a custom white balance, turned exposure compensation down as far as it would go (to -2). the exposure time was only 1/6 s.

gibbous moon

this is jupiter. the 4 smaller blurry dots are the 4 ‘gallilean’ moons (the 4 largest moons that galilleo could see with his telescope in the 16th century). callisto is the one way off by itself. the others are io, europa, and ganymede. this was a 1 second exposure. I also set it to an iso of 400. jupiter is too bright, the stripes don’t show up.

jupiter and the four Gallilean moons

next time I’ll have to try using the tripod with the digital camera.