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Tag Archives: Milky Way

The Helical Model of our Solar System

Picture our solar system hanging in space. What is it you see? Planets in nearly circular orbits, revolving at varying speeds around our central star, the Sun? What we don’t usually see is a depiction of what these orbits look like when you also factor in the movement of the Sun around the gravitational center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and the vortex-like movement of the planets as they get dragged along behind it. This animation takes our star’s galactic motion into account as well, and the paths are much different than what we ordinarily see. Take a look.

Pretty cool, huh?

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A Spiritual Experience

Total Eclipse of the Moon

Eclipse of The Moon on June 15, 2011

Who Needs Sleep!

For an atheist such as myself, the closest I come to having a religious experience is usually associated with some sort of spectacular natural event; something that makes it clear to me just how awesome the Universe is. This morning was one of those times. I got up at 4:45 am to watch the last total eclipse of the Moon until some time in 2014. It was well worth getting out of my warm bed to do so.

I took out a pair of low-power binoculars and two cameras. I hand-held my Canon EOS 10D and mounted my wife’s 50D on a tripod. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to learn how to set up the auto shutter release on her camera and, when the Moon entered totality there just wasn’t enough light to get a shot without using a long exposure. I got some decent pictures as the Earth’s penumbra slowly moved across the lunar surface and I’m hopeful they’re better than I expect. My eyesight is slowly dwindling and it’s difficult for me to tell if things are truly in proper focus. I’ll check them out later when I take the time to upload them from the card on which they now reside.

Cosmic Awesomeness

Nevertheless, as I watched our nearby satellite slowly fall behind our planet’s shadow, I was mesmerized by the thought of how enormous the three celestial bodies involved in this display are – compared to us – and how insignificant the whole show is in relationship to the rest of the Universe. I find these events incredibly awe-inspiring and am always humbled when I contemplate their scale. Think about it. The Moon is approximately two days away at the greatest speeds we’ve been able to achieve. It’s only about two light-seconds away. Our galaxy (The Milky Way) is approximately 100,000 light years in diameter and contains, perhaps, as many a 200 Billion stars. Current estimates put the number of Galaxies in the Universe at up to 500 Billion! That makes for an awful lot of stars.

The sure knowledge that I may be incredibly important to my wife and my children (not to mention me, myself, and I), but I really don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things is damn near paralyzing in its implications. Somehow, though, I have managed to meander fairly meaningfully through my life. I’m grateful for that!

The best views I got were with my small, 8-power binoculars I chose as a service award when I worked for The Boeing Company at what is now Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’ve had them quite some time and they do come in handy on occasion. I watched until the Moon was just about to disappear behind a tree, though distant, high, wispy clouds had pretty much obscured my view.

I also woke my 10-year-old, put my jacket on her, and carried her outside so she could see it. Last night she was anxious to view an eclipse of the Moon, but this morning was a slightly different story. So she got to see it, then got to go right back to sleep. Hope she remembers. I know I will.

Photo courtesy of The Sustainability Ninja


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