(Note: this is a slightly rewritten excerpt from my second book Sun, Moon and Stars. I hope that isn’t out of line, but I still like the piece as it is.)
In the same year so bright a light illumined a wide spread of lands in the middle of the night that you would have thought that it was high noon. On a number of occasions fiery globes were also seen traversing the sky at night-time, so that they seemed to light up the whole earth. (The History of the Franks IX.4)
The Northern Lights are a more personal topic than many in this blog. I grew up in Labrador, which is in the sub-Arctic of Canada, and we did get some good displays. (For the best, you go further north, above the tree line.) Apart from the great colour show you can get, the thing I most remember about them is the hush – people would stop and look, and no one made any noise, just watched the pink and green bands undulate across the sky. It wasn’t hard to see why the Innu and Inuit were in awe of them. Continue reading
Status is a funny thing. When Pluto was relisted as a dwarf planet, it was definitely a demotion. For the former asteroid Ceres, however, it was a step up. What had been an unusually large asteroid has moved into a whole new league. This was a bit unfortunate for astrologers, as they had taken the four largest asteroids, all named for Classical goddesses, as a balancing-act for the male-dominated planets.
The first images of Pluto and Charon from the New Horizons spacecraft were released Wednesday. Not coincidentally, Wednesday would have been Clyde Tombaugh‘s 100th birthday, and Tombaugh was the astronomer who first found Pluto.
Admittedly, these pictures are pretty fuzzy, but they’re really a rehearsal for July, when New Horizons will be much nearer the former ninth planet and will be able to get much better pictures. These first images were just to make sure that the spacecraft was pointed the right way.
It’s tempting here to make a joke about the Hubble, which ended up wandering blindly, but it did send back pictures of Pluto and its moons, such as the following:
There are two cool things about this, first the fact that we have these pictures at all, and second that Pluto’s moons are apparently nested in their orbits like Russian dolls, which is very tidy-minded of them.
Pluto may be a demoted planet, but for all Scorpios and astronomy fans like myself, it still has a place in our hearts. Clearly there are a few of us, to judge by the fact that there’s a t-shirt available which proudly proclaims: “Back in my day we had nine planets!”
If you liked the image at the top, click here.
With the news today that Pluto is finally going to be photographed, the outer rim of the solar system is receiving a lot more attention than it normally does. Not since Pluto was dropped from the list of planets has it received so much coverage. As part of the segue to the weather report on CBC Newsworld this morning they even gave out the temperature on Pluto (v. cold).