Just a few from a fantastic series of time-lapse images by photographer Tsuneaki Hiramatsu, via io9:
Douglas Koke presents a very cool time-lapse video (with motion graphics overlay) of the Very Large Array in New Mexico. Music courtesy of Telefon Tel Aviv, one of my favorite bands. View large for the full effect:
In related news, new funding has revived the Allen Telescope Array in California, which will once again sweep the skies for radio signals from any advanced alien civilizations out there in the cosmos.
SETI director Jill Tarter eloquently reminds us why this is important:
(via Bad Astronomy)
Photographer Terje Sørgjerd has put together a magnificent time-lapse video, filmed on the slopes of Mount Teide in the Canary Islands. Be sure to view this full-screen:
At about 30 seconds in, a sandstorm from the Sahara Desert hits:
Interestingly enough my camera was set for a 5 hour sequence of the milky way during this time and I was sure my whole scene was ruined. To my surprise, my camera had managed to capture the sandstorm which was backlit by Grand Canary Island making it look like golden clouds. The Milky Way was shining through the clouds, making the stars sparkle in an interesting way. So if you ever wondered how the Milky Way would look through a Sahara sandstorm, look at 00:32.
And beyond the dust from the storm lies the dust of the Milky Way itself. Phil Plait explains:
As the galaxy shows itself, look at the dark lane bisecting it. Feathery and ethereal, those dark fingers and tendrils are actually vast complexes of dust, long chains of carbon-based molecules floating in between the stars. Created when stars are born, age, and die, this dust litters the plane of the galaxy. Seen edge-on, it absorbs and blocks the light from stars behind it, creating the dark fog cutting across the breadth of our spiral galaxy.
Another moment of astonishing beauty: the clouds rolling and undulating like ocean waves, at 45 seconds in.
Roger Ebert writes of art as his consolation in the face of the universe, and Sørgjerd’s video (with Ludovico Einaudi’s exquisite music) is certainly art; but on another level, I like to think that the universe itself is its own consolation.
The thought will blow your mind if you let it. Here we are, the result of what hydrogen atoms can do given nearly fourteen billion years, peering upward through the veil of terrestrial sandstorms governed by the same titanic forces and universal physical laws that long ago ignited the stars: the unimaginable crucibles that brought forth the elements, the planets, life, awareness, us. And we turn our eyes to everything we have kinship with: to the high trees and flower-strewn fields, the fog-shrouded mountains and the golden light of desert storms — and eventually to the stars themselves wheeling overhead, their light crossing inconceivable distances to reach our eyes and remind us of the source of who we are. The idea that we are not merely in the universe, but of it — this is connection in the profoundest sense. This is what I think of when I think of spirituality.
Children of the stars, we turn our gaze skyward to consider our ancient origins — “starstuff pondering the stars,” as Carl Sagan wrote — and we make an offering of our awareness, our curiosity, our astonishment, our music and our art: if not in prayer, then in unbounded wonder and joy.
from “Mt. Lemmon, Steward Observatory, 1990”
by Alison Hawthorne Deming
What it takes to dazzle us, masters of dazzle,
all of us here together at the top of the world,
is a night without neon or mercury lamps.
Black sheen flowing above,
the stars, unnamed and disorderly —
diamonds, a ruby or sapphire,
scattered and made
more precious for being cut
from whatever strand
once held them together.
The universe is emptiness and dust,
occasional collisions, collapsing zones of gas,
electrical outbursts, and us.
Here is the 60-inch scope where
we struggle to see one pinpoint of light,
each singularity with its timid twinkle
become a city of stars, that trapezoidal
grouping at the end of Orion’s sword,
a cloudy nursery spawning
galactic stuff, lit but not illuminated
by a glassy hot blue star. What is it to see?
A mechanism wired in the brain
that leads to wonder. What is it
to wonder but to say
what we’ve seen and, having said it,
need to see farther.
I showed this video to my daughter, and was startled when her immediate response to its title was: “We humans are also capable of destroying the world.”
This is true, of course. These days — with terrorism, wars, global warming, oil spills, mass extinctions, and other man-made disasters dominating the headlines — our talent for self-destruction is surely never far from anyone’s mind. And with the foundering economy, the apathy (or downright hostility) toward science in much of society, and NASA’s priorities shifting away from manned exploration, it’s hard to envision us (or America, at least) making any serious progress in space travel anytime soon.
Carl Sagan understood all this. “We have a choice,” he said, in an update to his landmark television series Cosmos. “We can enhance life and come to know the universe that made us, or we can squander our 15 billion-year heritage in meaningless self-destruction. What happens in the first second of the next cosmic year depends on what we do, here and now, with our intelligence and our knowledge of the cosmos.” He was never a Pollyanna about the benefits of science or the general progress of society; he was thoroughly aware of the dangers of misusing technology, as well as of the forces of ignorance and anti-science against which he so fiercely fought; and he always hedged his most positive predictions of the human future with caveats: if we do not destroy ourselves; if we survive our technological adolescence.
But he never wrote off the human race. Continue reading