Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Pics In Space--The Sights Of Home

Hey, Space Fans! It's space slide show time again, and this month's offering brings a twist to our favorite pictorial pastime. In the lovely month of May, Earth is taking center stage. MSNBC takes us through the photographic archives to see what astronauts have been privileged to see over mankind's several decades of space flight: views of the home world from space, as seen from the Moon, space shuttles, the International Space Station, Gemini 7 and more. Right off the bat on this month's image adventure I learned something new about the astronaut experience that I had never considered before. Did you know that the astronauts that go into low Earth orbit, to the ISS for example, don't travel far enough away from the planet to get the whole "big blue marble" effect? The caption on the first beautiful image presented for our enjoyment says that, "...only two dozen men have seen Earth's full, round disk with their own eyes: the astronauts who travelled beyond low Earth orbit to the Moon." So everybody else who's been up into orbit have all had to be satisfied with a closer, and thus less complete view of the la Terre.

I can't bring myself to feel sorry for the ones who have "only" made it to LEO. Judging from this month's slide show experience, they've gotten enough of a thrill by getting as far away from home as they did. They've seen volcanoes erupting and hurricanes forming, northern lights spreading across the horizon, and sunrise as most of us never have, and never will see in our lifetimes. Anousheh Ansari, the Iranian-American woman who went vacationing to the ISS in 2006, was so overwhelmed by her first look at Earth from space that she started crying from the beauty of it. Now, I grant you, the astronauts from the Moon missions were especially blessed--they got to see Earthrise--but still, crying from overwhelming beauty isn't really getting the short end of the stick, now is it?

For those of you who are disappointed that this month we aren't photographically flying out into the farther reaches of space, to see nebulas and galaxies, and distant planets with rings and moons casting stark shadows to punctuate their shining brilliance, I will offer something a little different to let you dwell on the wonder of the stars. In the book of Job, God talks about the morning stars singing together. It sounds like poetry, doesn't it? Imagine, choirs of suns, each with their own voice to add to the symphony--beautiful, but, of course, not to be taken seriously in this age of science, right? Last week, though, I read something at Futurismic that made me remember that line from Job:

UK astronomers have recorded magnetic sound waves produced by the churning of our sun's fusion-powered corona - which, although way below the audible threshold of human hearing, are (apparently) produced in the same way that a plucked guitar string makes a note. Who says science and poetry are incompatible?

That's a wonder to me--something written so long ago, but only now confirmed by science. The heavens make music. Somehow, that makes my heart glad. While this month's pictures don't take us far afield, I hope they'll gladden your heart as well. Earth may not be a singing morning star, but she does make a lovely melody all her own.