Tuesday, November 15, 2005

the beauty just keeps shaking me

Image Credit: Beth Katz, http://www.spacew.com/gallery/image005097.html, katz@cs.millersville.edu

Oh, my my. The moon completes its journey from crescent as it passed Venus to near full now at Mars.... HIgh overhead in the middle of the night, the brilliant moon sails past bright clouds, the carnelian shimmer of Mars hanging directly underneath, the two travelling together across the sky. Patches of light clouds, shining white in a full moon sky sparse with stars, give the two exiherating, illusory bursts of speed as they pass by. Just as I walk outside, the Moon speeds away from the shadowed edge of one, while Mars shines through then it, too, finds freedom sprinting into the dark sky.

This round moon a mirror for the sun, nearly directly opposite it in the sky, now far beneath our feet, noontime in India. As always at the days around full moon, we look past it into deep space, our backs to the solar heart. Mars out there too, and Saturn rising high now in the east, somewhat ahead of us as we begin to catch it on our inside orbit, seemingly so distant (far beyond Mars, the asteroids, and even great Jupiter, only the far distant outer planets beyond it). And winter's stellar glory also drifing across the southern sky now as we enter the wee hours: Orion, his lines and angles, brilliant stars of blue, red, and white, trailed by his trusty Dog Star, Sirius, close to directly behind us in the great turning body of the Milky Way. Hard to see tonight, the winter wash of galactic arms erased by the moon, but in coming months during the dark of the moon, this will come clear again.

On and on, then, this annual turning to look out of the galaxy's disc, as in summer we gaze into its heart. On, too, the monthly guiding gaze of the moon, reminding us of our orientation to the sun, and so also to space.

And again as always, these mental pictures, these classroom models of the sky come alive a fraction more, my body steps a tad more boldly into the body of the solar system, and imagines a sliver more vividly the body of the galaxy, which is indeed larger than the infinity I can find a way to hold. So far.

The sky opens wide at night.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Cassini Rocks

Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI. See http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/image-details.cfm?imageID=1841 for full caption and larger image.
The Cassini probe, the one that dropped the parachuted probe onto Titan, continues to circle Saturn, and to send back consistently breathtaking photos of this most beautiful planetary system. This shot, taken in September, shows three of Saturns moons, Dione, Tethys, and Pandora, against the background of the rings. For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org

Monday, November 07, 2005

Cradled by the Lights

I'm starting to really sink into this evening cradle we're being held by, the brilliant light of Venus on the one hand (riding above the twilight), the big ol' orange glow of Mars on the other (way over there on the eastern horizon). And for the next fortnight, the moon'll be making its way around us, from Venus (sweet crescent now) on overhead to Mars (by then it'll be nearly full).

For the past few years I've been gradually cultivating a Really Big sense of place, one that takes the palpable awareness we build up of how the mountain ranges, watersheds, high plateaus, blankets of forests, all link together and become a continental-sized Home, so that we know what's over those mountains on the horizon, can sense the whole body of the continent because we've walked and driven it. This bigger picture is like that, expanded to the solar system's body, and the place of the solar family in the galactic whirl.

So here now maybe I get to anchor in some new concrete feeling of the way that Earth spins here around the sun, between our two closest siblings.... watching the sunset move rapidly across the starfield as we spin around in our orbit..... Venus, too, following 'round on its inside track, in fact catching up to us and passing between us and the sun by sometime in December.... Mars, taking its slower time out there beyond us; over the coming months it'll stay more or less with the stars itis now travelling with, and all that will move across the sky as we leave it in our wake on our speedier orbit. It's up now in the evening because we just passed by it on our way around (when we are directly between the sun and an outer planet or a constellation, that means it'll be in astronomical/astrological "opposition" to the sun and rise at sunset, ya?)

With just a bit of creative awareness, we can really see--and feel--the tilted disc of the solar sytem in this sky-scape. Especially if the glow of the sun is still in the western sky, we start there, the sun just below the horizon. Swing up to Venus (coming around the sun inside us), across to Mars (following along outside us as we pass it), with the moon adding a landmark in the plane of the solar system. Take a few moments to "see" the solar disc suspended here in the starfield. And what's with that picture above?? Well, it gives a palpable sense of the global perspective on "dusk": when we're looking at the sky after sunset, we're just a bit into the dark part there, looking toward the sun as our place on the earth rolls back, away into night. Venus is up there just above the sun, as our gaze skims the earth's disc toward the west. And Mars is way over the other way, just above our tangental view into space over the dark eastern horizon.....

That's some of the threads that can be woven into our awareness of the solar system body over the next month.... but then again, so far I gotta admit when I've been out there looking from Venus, to Mars, and back, and around, it's been nothing more or less than just a chance to feel a dose of wonder, a deep breath of beauty. That'll do.