Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Pics In Space--The Saturn Series

Hey, Space fans. It's time for our monthly cruise around the heavens, courtesy of MSNBC's Space Slide Show! I'll tell you in advance; this trip starts out a little slowly, with a computer simulation of a dying star, and a snapshot of an empty spacesuit. Not the most thrilling launch of all time. Seeing these images first, I was afraid the ride had lost its magic. Neither of them made me long to head out into space, especially in that rather cumbersome-looking space getup, but I should have known better than to fret. Once the slide show made it off the home-world, things got a lot more interesting. You'll see. If you come with me this time, we'll shift as quickly as we can to a higher gear and speed off to explore some of the wonders of the universe, so take your Dramamine and let's go for a ride!

Among the other planetary spectacles we'll encounter this time around, our tour will feature a photo spread of pretty pastel Saturn, rings aglow and looking fabulous. I don't think I ever appreciated before how picturesque a planet the ringed beauty really is. I've always seen Saturn in black and white, but this time we get treated to color images. They reveal that the Designer used a lovely and soft set of spring hues, and since we have the opportunity, we really ought to pause to admire the view before we fly further out into space. For Saturn these days, it's all about looking good, with rings spread just so, and an ornamental moon or two, to add a little extra style. As part of this month's planetary fashion shoot, the Saturnine moon called Mimas makes a shy and retiring appearance in the distance, not one to mug for the camera, but still willing to add something of a decorative touch. Rhea is less shy, but still understated, providing some flair, but not looking to steal Saturn's thunder. They work well together. It's a nice ensemble.

Now that we've given Saturn's moons their moment in the Sun, let's move on to more distant wonders, shall we? The beautiful Crab Nebula isn't shy at all, and, posing for Japan's Subaru Telescope, shows off all its full color glory. Here's an interesting history tidbit for you--this sight has been wowing space observers here on Earth since the year 1054. I don't think astronomers got this good a look way back then, though, and they certainly didn't get to preserve the image for anybody with a computer and a modem to see and enjoy. We really do live in amazing times. Speaking of amazing times, you can judge for yourself whether a photo recently released by the French space agency is evidence of alien life, or some sort of freaky lighting. You can also make up your own mind whether the sand dunes of Mars look more like snake or alligator skin. I'm leaning toward snake, but I'm open to other interpretations. Closer to home, we'll visit a couple of terrestrial locations, including an ancient Peruvian solar observatory--now 2,300 years old--the oldest in the Americas. I wonder whether the Peruvians of yesteryear saw that Crab Nebula? For their sake. I hope they did, but I bet they didn't get to witness "cosmic bullets" piercing through the Orion Nebula the way we can on this month's space jaunt, or see a distant galaxy tearing apart at the seams. Those poor ancient Peruvians really missed out! You don't have to miss a thing, though, so head on over and climb aboard the Space Slide Show!