Entries Tagged as personal
Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space. - Douglas Adams
I recently picked up Bill Bryson's A Short History Of Nearly Everything again and each night I'm enjoying dipping in to it and being wow'd for a little while before I fall asleep. Bryson does a great job of using language to convey the immensity of the universe, as did Douglas Adams in his own way. It is almost impossible to really grasp the scale of the universe, or indeed, anything that's really big (can you guess what a trillion dollars looks like?), so it's fascinating to see how it is depicted to us.
This image from Hubble has been described as the most important photograph ever produced. It's astonishing because it was taken whilst the telescope was focussed on a seemingly empty speck of space.
It reminds me of the old saying that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on Earth. Thinking this might just be one of those things people say I did a quick search and found that the consensus is that this is true: Australian astronomers reported that there are 10 times more stars in the visible universe than all the grains of sand on the world's beaches and deserts. It's fun to see people justifying the claim with back of the envelope calculations. I'm not doubting it but it seems we really want this to be true, in some way it's re-assuring to be a something small in something so overwhelmingly massive.
There are loads more great shots from Hubble here, well worth checking out, as are the photos of the Hubble's final servicing mission, the tools might not be Star Trek but they really strike a chord with my inner geek.
This is a full scale model of Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, or JSWT, is scheduled for launch in 2014.
I know nothing about astronomy and the technology behind all this, but damn if its looking a lot more sci-fi than it's predecessor and it's exciting to wonder what kind of images it's going to give us.
The know universe by the American Museum of Natural History (AMHN) takes the viewer on a journey out from Earth, view it in high definition on YouTube for the best experience.
These kind of videos are pretty common here's another, this one has a commentary, but I think the AMHN version captures it better, you don't really need a commentary filling your ears to be wondrous at it, just a little spacey music.
But if we are looking at fictionalized interpretations then the opening of the film Contact does a great job of creating that Wow! experience, cleverly using silence to create space to feel that, err, space. Just watch it:
The Universcale is a very slick interactive visualization created by Nikon. It's a Flash application and you can sit and watch it slowly move in, or you can accelerate it by clicking the numbers near the bottom, start at the far right and click back one by one from 27. Take your time with this one, and click on the item in the grid to see a nice reference on it, or just go crazy and jump straight to the low numbers.
I don't know the origins of this one, it got really nice zooming motion to it that makes it feel more like a game and, hey, who knew earthworms grew to be so big?
Perhaps we enjoy looking at all this is because it helps put our lives in perspective: being something so young and small in amongst something so old and big could have the effect of overwhelming us, but as it's all so non-negotiable there's nothing to do but accept it and be humbled by it. Helping any temporal problems we've got seems slightly less dominating.
The history of the Universe has been summed up thusly: 'Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people.'
John P. Wiley Jr., quoting Edward R. Harrison (a cosmologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst) Smithsonian Magazine, December, 1995.
I'm currently half way through reading Jane Eyre for the first time and, wow! This book is so beautiful, I'm in awe. It's the first book I can truly say I've cherished.
I initially borrowed it from the library but after the first two chapters I knew this was a book I had to own and I happened to be in a queue at the post office when there it was, in the Popular Penguin style inviting me to buy it for only $10. Owning it allows me to enjoy it at a much more leisurely pace, I'm steadily absorbing its richness. In some way reading acts as barometer of my state being. If I'm tired or weary then the words just seem to wash over me and I don't really appreciate the beauty of it and I know I'm loosing the opportunity to enjoy this great work, so I stop, I wait and I rest until I've more energy to enjoy it.
Whilst I like the old style of the book cover I don't think I'd want a whole bookshelf full of them. But then I've never really been attached to the idea of building up my own library of books, as a friend (who does have a sizeable book collection) says, "they're just expensive wallpaper". Having relocated myself significant distances a couple of times over the last few year I've been very comfortable with letting go of most books. Don't get me wrong, there are some books that I do hold on to and Jane Eyre has joined that collection. Invariably I'm also happy to give my books away (although don't come knocking on my door for them), I feel it's nicer both to give and receive a book that's been read before. If I'm giving a book to someone it's creating a connection, in some way we are sharing in the world of the book that's been given. That's often my gauge of enjoyment of a work of fiction: by how much do I feel like I'm inhabiting the world in my own imagination and memory, even when I'm away from it. I think the first book that caught me up in it was Stranger in a Strange Land as a teenager and now Jane Eyre has me. I'm half way through and it's wonderful, it's nourishing, so I read it slowly and savour it.
The second piece of media that I've come across lately and I've said to myself 'This is Gold!' is WNYC's Radio Lab. I listened to the "Where Am I" podcast whilst driving down to Brisbane to pick up my mother from the airport, here's the summary from their site:
This hour: stories of people whose brains and bodies have lost each other. We ask how does your brain keep track of your body? We’ll examine the bond between brain and body and look at what happens when it breaks. We begin with a century-old mystery: why do many amputees still feel their missing limbs? We speak with a neuroscientist who solved the problem with a magician’s trick: an optical illusion. We continue with the story of a butcher who suddenly lost his entire sense of touch. And we hear from pilots who lose consciousness and suffer out-of-body experiences while flying fighter jets.
This is a really smart, funny, compelling broadcast. Listen to it.
I look forward to getting into more of their podcasts. Here's the iTunes link to their whole series.
Ok, I'm going to go off on a tangent here, but stick with me:
So I'm writing this blog post and to reference Radio Lab I do a web search to get the address and before I know it I'm off, distracted, in internet land: I suddenly remember that I wanted to subscribe to the Radio Lab blog, oh and the Meditaion Oasis blog, oh and didn't they mention they've got a twitter account now, so I check that out too, scrolling through the tweets to the last one listed which mentions a "visual meditation on the present moment."
I realise I'm freewheeling now, heading for procrastination and I'm not going to get this blog post finished tonight... but hey, what's the harm, it's just one more link, so I click and here's what I get, a presentation by Radio Lab. I'm coming full circle now:
What's going on there?
I don't know but it doesn't stop: I see on Youtube that the video was inspired by the book Sum by David Eaglemen, so I jumped on the library website and placed a reserved it.
Now you might call this unfocussed meanderings, but for me, this is exploring. And there's so much exploring to do: Can you believe I've just discovered Leonard Cohen, can you believe it? This world is filled with such variety and richness and I feel like I'm just scraping the surface and I'm happy.