Sunday, January 10

Take your fill and filaments of ambrosia ...

Photo: The Second You Sleep by Magnus Nysveen at Onexposure.

I know that I am mortal and the creature of a day; but when I search out the massed wheeling circles of the stars, my feet no longer touch the Earth, but, side by side with Zeus himself, I take my fill of ambrosia, the food of the gods. — Claudius Ptolemy

Attention all stargazers, for your daily nightly fill of celestial ambrosia, I recommend the NASA sponsored Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). The site runs a different image every day, with a paragraph of illuminating commentary by a professional astronomer, featuring loads of links to fuller more detailed explanations of everything from the science of stardust, supernovas and pulsars to how events in the night sky have shaped human history and impact mythology and art, although it is far heavier on the science than on the art. The images and photographs are usually of striking quality, and you can download very high definition copies.

A good example from some months ago was the following image taken by the Hubble space telescope of the Crab Nebula and its mysterious filaments (APOD October 25, 2009):

NASA, ESA, J. Hester, A. Loll (ASU); Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin (Skyfactory)
It was accompanied by the following explanation:
This is the mess that is left when a star explodes. The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova seen in 1054 AD, is filled with mysterious filaments. The filaments are not only tremendously complex, but appear to have less mass than expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected from a free explosion. The above image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is presented in three colors chosen for scientific interest. The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. In the nebula's very center lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second.
On the APOD site the above paragraph contained 15 links or so, which I am too lazy to reproduce here. For example, clicking on mysterious in “mysterious filaments” brings up the following film-animation version released by NASA and the European Space Agency of the supernova explosion that left this beautiful “mess”.


And clicking on "1054 AD", takes you to a discussion of why the accompanying image (as photographed by Ron Lussier) is thought to be a petroglyph made by Anasazi Indian artists (in present-day Arizona and New Mexico) depicting the supernova which produced the great Crab Nebula, which shone four times as intensely as Venus at its brightest and could be seen in daylight for 23 straight days.

And if you click on … no, I won’t go on and on, you get the picture …


  1. I love those photos. They are so amazing.

  2. On a similar note, have you ever taken a look at the International Space Station through a telescope? It's pretty cool.

  3. Ronda: So glad you like them. I can't imagine doing this blog without the great photos I get from the Onexposure site and other places.

    Jeff: Actually, I have not tried seeing the ISS through a telescope, but I have often tracked it sailing across the sky without a telescope or binoculars. As you know, it can be seen with the naked eye, and very brightly at times. This has given me an idea for an upcoming post with info on how to track ISS passings and the amazing Iridium satellite flares, which are less well known, but delightful.

  4. My dear 93 year old grandfather would send me these NASA photos, before he passed away two years ago. Whenever I see these amazing shots, I think of him, now flying around in their midst.

  5. Hi, willow. Sounds like grandad was one hip 93-yearold. Nice to think of him whirling around up there, sowing what he reaped.

  6. Oh, nice. Since I've moved to a quieter island than New York, I have an amazing view of the night sky now. It's made me wish I knew more about the stars up there.

    Of course, my view isn't quite like these pictures.

  7. There is an expression in Spanish that I like: "dale tiempo al tiempo" -- "give time some time". You don't need to know much to enjoy the stars. In fact, the less information, the better at first. Just a dark quiet night, a mild attentive mood, and time ... I'm sure you'll learn all you need to know about the heavens.

  8. Hi, Ellen, nice to see you on the blog. I recently discovered your "stuff from Ellen's head" through Steven's "The Golden Fish" and am enjoying your words and artwork.

  9. Both pics are beautiful!! and an interesting read -thanks for sharing:)

  10. Lorenzo

    Quite spectacular this universe in which we live...I could/ have got lost for hours viewing such starry galactic shows.

    I enjoy going to NASA' site, but hesitated to post about it? and elected to just do posts on the moon.

    Even though we see the moon on a clear night - and landed on it -- it stills holds a mystery and magic for me..

    as does all of creation,

  11. Joanny: your posts on the moon are inspired and inspiring. I was especially struck by the "Everyday inspiration" post describing the excursion your father took you on when you asked him where he got the inspiration for his painting and poetry.

  12. We enjoy watching the ISS pass across the sky, its wings visible. In the distance, it disappears just before "hitting" the horizon.

    My son-in-law, who is here, is telling me there have been and will continue to be solar flares resulting in aurora borealis in this current span of days. I hope we can see some tonight. We have a hot tub under the stars, and it's great to star gaze year-round. Sadly, it has finished its life, beyond repair, except to replace all the parts, quite costly.

    The sky is a beautiful mess that repairs itself.


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