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the art + science of seeing

volume 2 issue 4

Cosmos


Gl mpse the art + science of seeing

Glimpse is an interdisciplinary journal that examines the functions, processes, and effects of vision and vision’s implications for being, knowing and constructing our world(s). Each theme-focused journal issue features articles, visual spreads, interviews and reviews spanning the physical sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities.

volume 2 issue 4

vol 2.4 Cosmos

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Contents Th e Cosmos Issue

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Unberührtes Muster

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Dimming the Lights Astronomy and light pollution

Arto Vaun

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Maya Ethnoastronomy

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THE CHEMICAL ELEMENTS IN THE COSMOS Katharina Lodders

Scott Kardel

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What the Wise Men Saw In the Sky

Susan Milbrath

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Exploring Mars and the Moon Using Google Earth Ross A. Beyer

Michael R. Molnar

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The Use of Color In Interstellar Message Design Kimberly A. Jameson & Jon Lomberg

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Seeing Titan Mapping Saturn’s moon with infrared technology Jason W. Barnes


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RetroSpect: 1757

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Seeing the Universe Through a Straw The Hubble Space Telescope

Carolyn Arcabascio

Christie Marie Bielmeier

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$25 Million a Ride A real view of space tourism C.J. Wallington

The COSMOS ISSUE PLAYLIST

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RetroSpect: 1880-1911

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(Re)views A Trip to the Moon & Moon Ivy Moylan


Jason W. Barnes is an assistant professor of physics at the University of Idaho. After growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, he received a BS degree in Astronomy from Caltech in 1998 and a Ph.D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona in 2004. Prior to starting at the University of Idaho he worked as a postdoc for the Kepler mission at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. He has worked closely with the Cassini VIMS science team since the spacecraft’s arrival into the Saturn system in 2004.

SCOTT KARDEL Since 2003 Scott Kardel has been the Public Affairs Coordinator for Caltech’s Palomar Observatory. There he directs the observatory’s public outreach program. He has been a featured speaker across the United States giving talks on general astronomy, light pollution, and the history of Palomar Observatory. He holds a Masters degree in astronomy from the University of Arizona and a Bachelor’s degree in physical science/ secondary education from Northern Arizona University and is a lifetime member of the International Dark-Sky Association.

ROSS A. BEYER Dr. Beyer is a planetary scientist with the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute. He carries out his research in the Space Science and Astrobiology Division (Planetary Systems Branch) at the NASA Ames Research Center. He is also a Research Fellow with the Center for the Origin, Dynamics and Evolution of Planets at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He studies surface geomorphology, surface processes, remote sensing and photogrammetry of the solid bodies in our Solar System—if you can stand on it, he’s 90 interested in what it’s like and how it got that way. Beyer also serves on the science teams of several active spacecraft.

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KATHARINA LODDERS Os

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Kimberly A. Jameson is a cognitive scientist Gd conducting research at the Institute for 60 Mathematical Behavioral Sciences, at the Cs University of California, Irvine (http://aris.ss.uci. Sb edu/~kjameson/kjameson.html). Color plays a50 Ag prominent role in her empirical and theoretical Nb work, which includes research on the 40 mathematical modeling of color category Br evolution among communicating artificial 30 agents; individual variation and universals in Co human color cognition and perception; the genetic underpinnings of color perception; and 20 K comparative investigations of the ways the worlds’ cultures name and conceptualize color Na 10 in the environment. She also collaborates with Nancy Alvarado on the cognitive processing of Li H emotion. 0 Atomic Number of Element (number of protons)

Contributors

JASON W. BARNES

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Katharina Lodders is a research Tl Hg Au professor in the Department of Earth & Re W Planetary Sciences and the McDonnell Ta Center for the Space Sciences at Tm Er Ho Washington University in Saint Louis, Eu Sm Missouri. She received her doctorate in Nd Pr 1991 at the Johannes-Gutenberg Xe I University and Max-Planck-Institute for Sn In Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. Her Pd Rh current research focuses on chemistry Ru in stellar environments and in planets Zr Y Sr inside and outside the solar system. Se As Lodders has (co-)authored more than Ge Ga 80 papers in scientific journals and two Fe Mn The Planetary Scientist’s books; Cr V Companion (Oxford Univ. Press 1998). A Ar Cl new book on the Chemistry of the Solar S P System for the Royal Chemical Society Ne F will O appear in 2010. More about her N research is at http://solarsystem.wustl. He. edu

Number of Kinds of Atoms for Each Element (number of isotopes)


JON LOMBERG

Dr. Susan Milbrath is Curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and an Affiliate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in Art History and Archaeology, and has curated a number of major exhibits including an NEH-funded traveling exhibit featuring her research that opened at the American Museum of Natural History. For the past 20 years Milbrath has been a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History where she has continued working on exhibits, including several exhibits that toured nationally. Her recent research focuses on the archaeology and ethnohistory of Mayapan, the last Maya capital in Mexico, and astronomical imagery in Mesoamerican art.

MICHAEL R. MOLNAR Retired astronomer Michael R. Molnar now makes violins to accompany the music of the spheres. More about the Star of Bethlehem can be learned from his website: www.michaelmolnar.com.

C.J. WALLINGTON C.J. Wallington is (as far as he knows) the world’s first university space tourism development teacher. After two sessions at NASA’s Johnson Space Center as a summer faculty fellow, he returned to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and the next year initiated a course called Space Tourism Development. All of this was prior to Dennis Tito’s trip to the International Space Station, Zero-Gravity’s commercial weightlessness flights, and years before Burt Rutan won the X-Prize. He currently teaches in RIT’s School of Hospitality and Service Management, and has even taught the course in Croatia, leading to a Croatian student’s Master’s thesis about selected consumers’ interests in space tourism. If he had the money (college professors don’t make that much), he would be on a Zero-G flight or in line for Virgin Galactic’s suborbital flights (blatant hint for funding). Wallington has a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and blames all this on George Lucas who was in cinema school at about the same time making THX-1138.

Cosmos

SUSAN MILBRATH

winter 2010

EMMY Award. His portrait of the Milky Way Galaxy, commissioned by the National Air and Space Museum, remains the iconic image of the galaxy for this generation of astronomers. He has worked in interdisciplinary partnership with prominent astronomers, physicists, and psychologists of perception. As Design Director of NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Record, Lomberg designed the cover and pictorial contents of the Record, with an estimated lifetime of 1000 million years. Also, three message artifacts of his design are now on the surface of Mars aboard 3 NASA spacecraft. An asteroid near Mars has been officially named Asteroid Lomberg in his honor.

volume 2.4

For 25 years Jon Lomberg was astronomer Carl Sagan’s principal artistic collaborator in books, magazines, television, and film projects including the film CONTACT and the TV series COSMOS, for which the artist won an

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Glimpse Team

From the Editor

Megan Hurst

Founder, Managing Editor

Carolyn Arcabascio

Acquisitions Editor

Nicholas Munyan Art Director

Glimpse  

www.glimpsejournal.com

Christie Marie Bielmeier

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Contributing Science Writer

Rachel Sapin Editorial Assistant Angie Mah Editorial Intern Wayne Kleppe Design Intern, Illustrator Ivy Moylan Contributor, Film Reviews Arto Vaun Staff Poet, Contributing Poetry Editor

Adjunct + Alumni Christine Madsen Co-Founder, Editor (Europe) EmComm Marketing + Communications Matthew Steven Carlos Editorial Advisor Anthony Owens Photographer Jamie Ahlstedt Logo Design

Glimpse PO Box 44 Salem, MA 01970 ISSN 1945-3906 www.glimpsejournal.com Copyright and Acknowledgements Glimpse acknowledges creators’ copyright, and encourages contributors to consider Creative Commons licenses for their works. Many of the images used in this issue are Creative Commons licensed images from Flickr.com members, and others are public domain images courtesy of private collectors. The font used in this issue is Tuffy, a freely available font.

Humans have always looked up.

The sky’s constellations might have been the first text to which humans ascribed meaning, long before written language emerged. This issue, Cosmos, is by and about those among us that look intently upwards, and what they’ve learned by looking. Four hundred years ago this month, in March 1610, Galileo Galilei published Sidereus Nuncius, the first printed treatise on telescopic observations of celestial objects. If Galilei could witness the power of telescopy and digital imaging technology today, he might be awestruck, and then we suspect he would quickly busy himself collaborating with the Glimpse vol 2.4 issue contributors. He might be lobbying with Scott Kardel for dimmer earthly lights so their observatories could get a clearer picture of the sky. He might promote Dr. Katharina Lodders’ re-framing of the Periodic Table to better reflect the chemical elements of and beyond terrestrial Earth. He might join Dr. Jason W. Barnes in infrared imaging of Titan’s surface. He might virtually fly over the surface of the Moon and Mars in the latest versions of Google EarthTM described in detail by Dr. Ross A. Beyer. Perhaps Galilei would even angle for a $25 million space vacation (heeding Dr. C.J. Wallington’s best advice). We see more clearly by looking to the past. Our telescopes and cameras, stationed on Earth’s high points or floating in space, lenses open, record ancient light (both visible and invisible) that tells us stories of long, long ago, from very, very far away. Astronomy is inextricably linked with technologies of seeing. Whether allowing for greater magnification or the visualization of invisible light, advances in digital imaging technologies have enabled astronomers to probe deeper, to the edges of the known universe. Skills of acute observation serve astronomers just as well when looking at human history. Two contributors to this issue piece together ancient civilizations’ customs and practices as they relate to the patterns of the stars. Dr. Michael R. Molnar and Dr. Susan Milbrath devote their inquiry to an understanding of the cultural context of celestial events during the times of Christ and the Maya, respectively. This issue’s cover features an image of Mission Control that typifies the 20th-century lore of space exploration. While we couldn’t resist this image, we advise you to look beyond this cover where you will find that the stereotype of men wearing headsets and pocket-protectors is tempered by a much deeper and broader representation of human engagement with the observable universe over millennia.

Megan Hurst, Editor editor@glimpsejournal.com


the Glimpse Cosmos playlist iTunes playlist available via http://www.glimpsejournal.com/playlist-vol-2.4-cosmos.html “Blue Skies” — Duke Ellington (from Best of Duke Ellington) “Space Walk” — Lemon Jelly (from Lost Horizons) “Juju Space Jazz” — Brian Eno (from Nerve Net) “I am the Cosmos” — Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson (from Break Up) “Gravity Rides Everything” — Modest Mouse (from The Moon & Antarctica) “Rocket Man” (Elton John cover) — My Morning Jacket (from Chapter 1: The Sandworm Cometh ..) “What Would I Want? Sky” — Animal Collective (from Fall be Kind - EP) “Man on the Moon” — Kid Cudi (from Man on the Moon - The End of the Day) “We Own the Sky (Maps Remix)” — M83 (from We Own the Sky - EP) “Wandering Star” (Portishead cover) — Kid Beyond (from Amplivate) “New Moon on Monday” — Duran Duran (from Seven and the Ragged Tiger) “Sunrise” — Yeasayer (from All Hour Cymbals) “Space Truckin’” — Deep Purple (from Live at Montreaux 2006) “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” — Parliament (from Mothership Connection) “Heliocentric” — Sun Ra (from Heliocentric Worlds, Vol. 1) “Across the Universe” (The Beatles cover) — Fiona Apple (from Pleasantville) “Starman” — David Bowie (from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars) “Under the Milky Way” (The Church cover) — Starflyer 59 (from Minor Keys - EP) “Astronomy” — Metallica (from Garage, Inc.) “Satellite of Love” (Lou Reed cover) — U2 (from One - EP) “Sun” — Burning Spear (from Chant Down Ba—lon: The Island Anthology) “East of the Sun (West of the Moon)” (Brooks Bowman cover) — Diana Krall (from The Very Best of Diana Krall) “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)” — Frank Sinatra (from Nothing But the Best - The Frank Sinatra Collection) “Satellite [The Astronauts Remix]” — Guster (from Satellite - EP) “Moon” — Sia (from Colour the Small One) “Walking on the Moon” — The Police (from The Very Best of Sting & the Police) “Wormhole” — Wendy Carlos & London Philharmonic Orchestra (from Tron [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]) “The Killing Moon” — Echo & The Bunnymen (from Songs to Learn and Sing) “You’re Not an Astronaut” — The Most Serene Republic (from Phages) “Astronaut (Clark Remix)” — Yila (from Astronaut [featuring Scroobius Pip] - EP) “Ending Titles - Tron” — Wendy Carlos & London Philharmonic Orchestra (from Tron [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]) (Front Cover) A group of eight astronauts and flight controllers monitor the console activity in the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) of the Mission Control Center (MCC) during the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission. Seated, left to right, are MOCR Guidance Officer Raymond F. Teague; Astronaut Edgar D. Michell, and Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., Standing, left to right, are Scientist-Astronaut Anthony W. England; Astronaut Joe H. Engle; Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan; Astronaut Ronald E. Evans; and M.P. Frank, a flight controller. When this picture was taken, the Apollo 13 moon landing had already been cancelled, and the Apollo 13 crewmen were in transearth trajectory attempting to bring their crippled spacecraft back home. (Back Cover) Astronaut Edward H. White II, pilot for the Gemini-Titan 4 space flight, floats in space during America’s first spacewalk. The extravehicular activity (EVA) was performed during the Gemini 4 mission on June 3, 1965. White spent 23 minutes maneuvering around his spacecraft as Jim McDivitt remained inside the spacecraft. White is attached to the spacecraft by a 25-ft. umbilical line and a 23-ft. tether line, both wrapped in gold tape to form one cord. In his right hand, White carries a Hand-Held Self Maneuvering Unit (HHSMU), which he used to help move him around the weightless environment of space. The visor of his helmet is gold plated to protect him from the unfiltered rays of the sun. (Background, this page, and page 11) The most famous star cluster on the sky, the Pleiades can be seen without binoculars from even the depths of a light-polluted city. Also known as the Seven Sisters and M45, the Pleiades is one of the brightest and closest open clusters. The Pleiades contains over 3000 stars, is about 400 light years away, and only 13 light years across. Quite evident in the photograph are the blue reflection nebulae that surround the bright cluster stars. The prominent star cluster played a significant role in the rituals and daily lives of humans throughout history, as Susan Milbrath explains later in this issue. Image courtesy of David Malin (AAO), ROE, UKS Telescope.


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The Dawn of the Color Photograph Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet

David Okuefuna In 1909 the French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn launched a monumentally ambitious project: to produce a color photographic record of human life on Earth. Over the next twenty years, he sent a group of photographers to more than fifty countries around the world, amassing more than 72,000 images. Today Kahn’s collection of early color photographs is recognized as one of the world’s most important. “[D]oes the past change when we see it in color? In many instances, the vivid palette brings the images closer to our present moment, making the world—and the distance of history—frighteningly small.” —Nicole Rudick, Bookforum “[A] handsome document full of lush and memorable images. Most of us still picture 1909 exclusively in black and white, so it’s a revelation to peer back 100 years and see such eerily bright hues.” —Dushko Petrovich, The Boston Globe 336 pages. 370 color illus. 9 x 9. Cloth $49.50 978-0-691-13907-4

For sale only in the United States and Canada

800.777.4726 press.princeton.edu


Unber端hrtes Muster

That I orbit that I tilt and orbit your ghost-place That I still wake up knowing that I dreamed But uncertain of what the dream was

Cosmos

Sometimes I do not know my own geography I do not recognize the solar winds as folksong As what happened

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From an aerial view everything is pristine pattern

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Make me a planet or turn the table over and sing I am only here I am only terrain

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Once you were sitting across from me your voice And short platinum hair putting me together taking me Apart until the coordinates entered so long ago Were all wrong just like that Now I see the dark matter I see no enemy I see how my body is exactly as it should be held In the middle of nowhere in your arms

Arto Vaun, 2010

(Background image). See description on page 9. Image courtesy of NASA.


www.glimpsejournal.com Glimpse  

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t is a warm August evening and I am standing on the outside catwalk of the 200-inch Hale Telescope at

Palomar Observatory near the top of Palomar Mountain. As I gaze to the south, the summer Milky Way arches overhead, up and beyond the massive dome. The night is cloudless and I follow the Milky Way as it stretches in front of me all the way down to the southern horizon. My

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focus is pulled to a wide glow to the southwest-San Diego. The many lights of the city and its satellite communities intrude on the skies over the mountain. I do not have a direct view of the lights. The mountain itself is in the way. Suddenly, the 1,000-ton dome silently rotates, turning me clockwise so that I now face north. Inside, astronomers line up to look at a new research target. Outside, I now see the lights of Temecula, Riverside County and more. These lights are closer than those of San Diego, and their glow intrudes higher into the sky. The mountain does not directly obstruct these lights, allowing me to see their colors: orange, yellow and white. The orange lights are a comfort to me—the white lights a concern. From the astronomer’s perspective, not all streetlights are equal. The key is their color. In the daytime sky, a rainbow reveals that sunlight is a combination of all the colors of the spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet) as the white light of the Sun scatters in a beautiful arch of color. Even on clear days that are without rainbows, we see some evidence that sunlight is a blend of color, as our atmosphere scatters a portion of it, making the sky appear blue. Similar to sunlight, a white streetlight contains a mixture of all the colors of the rainbow and can brighten the sky through light that is either misdirected or reflected upward. This effect is strongest if the streetlight contains blue light in its mix of colors.

Stars wheel above the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory. Sky glow from city lights is evident behind the dome.


volume 2.4 winter 2010

by Scott Kardel

Cosmos

the Lights: Dimming Astronomy and light pollution

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(Left) Bright, white LED streetlamps, like those seen here in San Marcos, CA, could pose a great threat to astronomy. (Above) The spectra of 2 street lamps spreads out the colors of each. (Above Right) Two types of streetlights: a white induction lamp (left) and an orange low-pressure sodium lamp (right).

Blue light is particularly dangerous to astronomy because if reflected upward, it makes the sky brighter than the other colors do. This is due to Rayleigh scattering, the same effect that makes the daytime sky blue. The result: day or night, blue light equals a brighter sky that all too often hides the stars from city dwellers and obscures faint astronomical objects that are of interest to astronomers.

for legislation to protect Palomar. The design of orange, lowpressure sodium (LPS) lights offered the best compromise. LPS lights emit enough light to maintain safety and security in parking lots and street corners while putting out a limited amount of color with no blue light. These conditions are ideal for astronomers, who can simply use glass filters to block colors produced by the LPS lights, leaving the rest of the color spectrum available for studies of the universe.

It wasn’t always this way. In the 1930s, when the site was selected by George Ellery Hale, the sky above Palomar was always dark. Over time the cities grew and the sky brightened. This brightening of the sky is what astronomers call sky glow, or light pollution.

White light, though, is another story. As a mix of all colors of the spectrum, the only way for astronomers to filter out white light is to keep the dome closed, throw in the towel and give up on learning about the cosmos.

To counter light pollution’s damaging effects, in the 1980s Palomar Observatory’s parent institution, Caltech, lobbied

In the age before big cities, there was no light pollution. Everyone throughout the world saw pristine, starry skies. The night sky played


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a role in myths and creation stories from Babylonia to North America, and is a common motif in modern works of art such as van Gogh’s Starry Night. This inspirational experience has now faded away for virtually everyone. Almost two-thirds of the world’s population can no longer see the Milky Way from their home. Worse still is that they are unaware of what they are missing.

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Just over twenty years ago, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) formed to raise awareness on the problems caused by light pollution and to ultimately reverse its hold on us. The IDA estimates that over two billion dollars of electric energy is wasted annually in illuminating the night sky.1 The energy used to produce this wasted light contributes directly to the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere that cause global warming. The IDA suggests that to simultaneously conserve energy and combat light pollution, outdoor lights should be directed downward, dimmed or even turned off when they are not needed. Further studies have suggested that light pollution has a negative effect on many forms of wildlife and possibly even human health.2 Streetlights, especially those with blue in them that are located near beaches, have been found to confuse hatching sea turtles, leading them away from the ocean and to their deaths. Newly hatched sea turtles instinctively look for the reflection of moonlight off of the ocean to know which way to turn to leave the beach and

head for the water. Blue streetlights often send them in the wrong direction. Migrating birds can be drawn off course by artificial lights at night causing them to collide with buildings and other obstacles. A group called Fatal Light Awareness Project (FLAP) seeks to curb nighttime lighting to protect migratory birds. Streetlights also attract flying insects (think bug zapper) and on average, kill 150 per night.3 While that might seem like a good thing, remember that insects are an important part of the food chain for bats, birds and amphibians. In humans it has been found that blue light resets our natural circadian rhythms. Sensors in our eyes detect the blue light of the daytime sky to keep our internal clocks tuned with nature. Excess blue light at night can throw off our day/night rhythm leading to sleep disorders and possibly even cancer.4 Fortunately, light pollution is the easiest form of pollution to fight. It is much easier to properly illuminate an area or turn off unneeded lights than it is to, say, clean up an oil spill. The biggest stumbling block against fighting light pollution is the challenge of building awareness. The IDA is working hard to

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educate the public and to get dark-sky friendly lighting fixtures approved, while helping to draft lighting ordinances that would curb the growth of light pollution.

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Despite these efforts, I am concerned that even brighter times may lie ahead. New technologies in LED (Light Emitting Diode) outdoor lighting, combined with federal monies granted through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 are likely to bring about a tidal wave of new streetlights in the very near future that will cause further brightening of the night sky. Manufacturing light has become cheaper, and these new lights are whiter in color.

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So why are some cities looking to change their lighting? Maybe to save on energy costs, but the answer is unclear. Delivering more Lumens of light per Watt of energy expended, LPS is still the most efficient lighting source around. It is about three times more efficient than the best LED lights available, but the extra colors in a LED or induction streetlight make them look brighter to the eye than a LPS streetlight of the same brightness. This implies that LED lights could be dimmed without people even noticing. And dimmer lights mean less energy used. Yet there is a potential gain that comes with the new streetlights. Computer control, wireless networks, and instant on and off lighting now make it possible to dim or even extinguish streetlights during the wee hours of the morning when streets are vacant and most people are sleeping. It is during these times that astronomers at Palomar and elsewhere are hard at work while tax dollars are spent illuminating empty streets. Should cities choose to use after-hours dimming, they’ll save money, fight global warming and help preserve the night sky.

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Back on Palomar I notice that tonight, Mother Nature is on the side of astronomy. The lights below are slowly starting to wink out from west to east. A slow invasion of low marine layer clouds blows in from the Pacific and acts like a giant window shade, blocking the glare from our neighbors below. With the mountain observatory safely above the clouds, the universe is growing in its splendor. In a few hours, the invasion of low clouds should be complete and Palomar will be almost as dark as it was in the 1930s. It is a view that I wish I could share with others. w


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(Left) Residents of Palomar Mountain look down on the lights of San Diego County with the stars of Orion (center) and Taurus (right) shining above. (Above) A layer of low coastal clouds can dim the glow of city lights below keeping the stars bright for astronomers

Endnotes 1.

LightPost!, “Questions With: International Dark Sky Association Part 1,” http://blog.lampsplus.com/ archive/2009/07/09/questions-with-internationaldark-sky-association-part-1.aspx.

2.

International Dark-sky Association, “Blue Light Threatens Animals and Humans,” http://docs.darksky. org/PR/PR_Blue_White_Light.pdf.

3.

Starry Night Lights Blog, “The Effects of Light Pollution on the Animal Kingdom,” http://starrynightlights.com/blog/2007/07/02/the-effects-of-lightpollution-on-the-animal-kingdom/; The Garden of Eaden blog, “Light Pollution and the Decline of Native Insects,” http://gardenofeaden.blogspot.com/2009/08/ light-pollution-and-decline-of-native.html.

4.

Pauley, S.M., “Lighting for the human circadian clock: recent research indicated that lighting has become a public health issue,” in Medical Hypotheses 63 (2004): 588-596.


1

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold,

there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is

he that is

born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are

come to

worship him. 3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was

troubled,

and all Jerusalem with him. 4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. 12And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. 13And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 14When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent

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forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Matthew 2:1-16


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by Michael R. Molnar

winter 2010

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What the Wise Men Saw In the Sky

he Christian account of the Star of Bethlehem has been largely unsubstantiated

by hard scientific data. Countless astronomers have attempted to offer explanations for the

phenomenon, but none have been without flaws and contradictions. Here, I propose a theory, grounded in both ancient astrology and hard science, which validates the plausibility of this spectacular biblical event. During the Christmas season, astronomers are often asked about a star that supposedly appeared at the birth of Jesus Christ during the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. A brief and perplexing story in the biblical account of Matthew tells us that mysterious stargazers called “Magi” or “Wise Men” were led “from the East” by a “star in the east”— directions that do not make geographical sense. In the court of the ruthless King Herod, these astrologers announced that the star revealed the birth of a king somewhere in Judea. This news puzzled Herod and the people of Jerusalem, who did not notice the star. The star then reportedly led the Magi to the village of Bethlehem, where it hovered over the child. This seemingly miraculous celestial apparition became known as the Star of Bethlehem. My fellow astronomers have suggested many celestial events to account for this sighting. But their ideas

run counter to what ancient stargazers would have deemed symbolic of a Judean king’s birth. For example, some astronomers have suggested a comet because it can appear without warning and can move slowly among the stars as if it were leading to the birthplace. However, the story says that no one in Jerusalem noticed the Magi’s star. Moreover, astrologers of Roman times such as Claudius Ptolemy and Roman chronicler Cassius Dio have written that comets were feared as harbingers of upheaval and the death, not birth, of a monarch.

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Another theory originally popularized by Johannes Kepler, a Renaissance astrologer, is the “new star.” He saw in AD 1604 what we now know to be a supernova that appeared by chance in the midst of a triple planetary conjunction. Strongly moved by faith and mysticism, Kepler mused about a supernatural star created by a similar rare planetary conjunction around the time of Jesus’ birth. His theory, too, requires that only the Magi notice the new star, which presents a challenge to rational thinking. Scientists have built on Kepler’s idea, advocating various planetary conjunctions based on their experience and training as modern astronomers. They have neglected to think like astrologers of Roman times. Some astronomers now favor a theory of spectacular planetary conjunctions, when planets appear extremely close together, as a portent for a king’s birth. Furthermore, many think that the biblical Magi who studied the skies watched for such a spectacular omen, much like their Babylonian predecessors did while atop Background photo courtesy of Flickr member a ziggurat. But when we examine the historical record, jekert gwapo


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we find no evidence supporting these notions that the event was a visible spectacle.

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Historians have found that following Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Near East, Greek and

Roman chroniclers such as Cicero in 45 BC report that Near Eastern magi—physicianastrologers with roots in the Zoroastrian priesthood—made predictions using horoscopes Babylonian concepts merged, establishing a system for interpreting planetary patterns and making predictions. According to astronomy historian Otto Neugebauer, astrologers since the fourth century BC calculated planetary positions, albeit crudely by modern standards, for use in a geometrical diagram called a horoscope. This system provided the basis for astrology as it is currently practiced. Accounts from Roman chroniclers such as Cicero in 45 BC report that Near Eastern magi—physician-astrologers with roots in the Zoroastrian priesthood—made predictions using horoscopes. These reports helped me understand that the biblical star was not a visible spectacle, but part of a horoscope that was fit for a Judean king. However, my examination of the biblical story started not with attempts to explain the star as other astronomers had, but with efforts to understand celestial symbols on Roman coins. This investigation led me to realize what the “Wise Men” saw in the sky. Readers of Sky & Telescope may recall my 1990 article, “The Coins of Antioch,” which explains that coins from Antioch in Roman Syria bore the image of Aries the Ram—the zodiacal sign of Judea (Figure 1). Aries, I reasoned, is where the Magi’s royal star would have appeared and proceeded to guide them to Judea

to find the new king. Other coins and ancient records from astrologers such as Vettius Valens (ca. AD 150) showed that both the Moon’s passing near and especially obscuring Jupiter were royal omens. With this information in mind, I searched for close lunar conjunctions in the astrological sign of Aries during the timeframe when scholars think Jesus was born. I found two very close conjunctions that were in fact lunar occultations, or obscurations of Jupiter: March 20, 6 BC and April 17, 6 BC. This finding was met with skepticism by astronomers because they tend to expect Hollywood-class celestial pyrotechnics to accompany the hallowed, glorious birth of Jesus. Also, those guided by religion questioned my consideration of astrology during my investigation. But it is a historical fact that magi were astrologers who calculated horoscopes and used a standard, welldocumented system for interpreting the celestial tealeaves, as it were. That Jews of the time did not understand the astrology of Near Eastern magi provides more reason to believe that the biblical star was indeed not a spectacular astronomical sighting, but a subtle astrological event that no one in Jerusalem had noticed. After the publication of “The Coins of Antioch,” I reexamined the original Greek text of the biblical account and realized that the phrase aster en te anatole translates literally to “star in the east”—a highly important astrological aspect. Astrologers called planets “stars,” and described them as “in the east” when emerging from the Sun’s brightness to become a morning star. Astrologers believed this morning appearance for Jupiter provided a burst of magical power, resulting in a royal birth. Antigonus of Nicaea, an astrologer, wrote that Roman Emperor Hadrian was born with Jupiter nearly “in the east,” a position that was good enough to earn even him the royal purple. Recognizing the importance of Jupiter being “in the east,” I then examined whether this event happened in the timeframe historians set for Jesus’ birth—10 BC to AD 5. According to Ptolemy and other astrologers, for Jupiter to be “in the east” it should rise before the Sun by twelve degrees. This is where Jupiter would become a morning star. As it happened, Jupiter was “in the east” in Aries the Ram during this timeframe only on


Sun Jupiter Saturn Rule with Power in Aries Leo Sagittarius volume 2.4

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Sagittarius

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April 17, 6 BC, one of the lunar occultation dates. This coincidence was uncanny and significant. That day’s horoscope, considered in the convention of Roman times, has quite royal implications. The Sun was in Aries, which is its “exaltation” position, where it purportedly had strong regal influences over a newborn child. Additionally, Jupiter and Saturn were in Aries, which meant that all three rulers of the “trine of Aries, Leo and Sagittarius” (a triangle formed in a horoscope between these three zodiacal sings) were present—an occurrence that has extraordinarily important astrological implications. Figure 2 illustrates the arcane concept of trines formed by zodiacal signs. That “trine rulers” and “exaltations” are not astronomical concepts would explain why astronomers failed to understand the nature of the star. But these arcane concepts were key ingredients in the royal horoscopes of kings and emperors. Furthermore, the close conjunction of the Moon with Jupiter was another

regal astrological aspect. This conjunction occurred as Jupiter emerged “in the east.” Understandably, this horoscope for April 17, 6 BC was fit for a great king born under the sign of Aries. We now may better appreciate why Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote about rumors of the advent in 6 BC of the Messiah, two years before Herod died. The Magi did not literally follow the star across the Arabian desert because the events in Aries pointed them to Judea. But the biblical account seems to defy this natural explanation because the star also “went

Figure 1 (Left). Romans in Antioch started issuing coins with Aries the Ram when Roman Governor Quirinius annexed Judea in AD 6. Courtesy of the author. Figure 2 (Above). Astrologers of Roman times believed that trines or triangles formed by signs of the zodiac held magical power for certain planets. Illustration adaptation by Wayne Kleppe. Original illustration courtesy of the author.

I found two very close conjunctions that were in fact lunar occultations, or obscurations of Jupiter: March 20, 6 BC and April 17, 6 BC


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before” the Magi and “stood over where the child was.” This is a precise translation of the original Greek text, and as such, many would believe that it can only describe a supernatural apparition and deter further scientific analysis. But a natural explanation exists for this puzzle.

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Historians note that Matthew, the evangelist, was a Jew, and presumably would not have been conversant with astrological jargon. This notion is apparent from his literal description of a “star in the east.” Arcane technical terminology would have been awkwardly conveyed by the uninitiated. The account of the mysterious motion of the “star,” as planets were called, likely suffers from the same kind of misinterpretation because “went before” in Greek (proegen) sounds confusingly similar to the word for “went ahead” (proegeis)—the astrological term for retrograde motion. Although a planet’s most important astrological phase was that which rendered it a “morning star,” “retrograde motion” and “stationing” were secondary auspicious positions. Figure 3 shows how retrograde motion is an optical illusion caused when the Earth passes a distant planet, which shifts the planet’s position among the background stars. Before shifting

Astrologers thought that retrograde motion was a magical display of celestial influences on people directions, the planet will station, or seem to stop moving, appearing to hover relative to the stars. Astrologers thought that retrograde motion was a magical display of celestial influences on people. As it turns out, Jupiter’s retrograde motion months after it had been “in the east” was an extra special astrological event. On December 6, 6 BC, Saturn was still in Aries, where Jupiter had also halted upon concluding its retrograde motion. Here, it remained stationary among the stars in the astrological sign under which the new king was born. On this day, the Sun was in Sagittarius, which fulfilled the condition for the three rulers residing in their trine of Aries, Leo and Sagittarius (Figure 1). Thus, the Magi had good reason to give praise as Jupiter stationed in Aries.

Jupiter in its station would indeed be standing motionless among the background stars in the zodiacal sign where the young king was born. Unlike when the planet emerged as a morning star, Jupiter was now very bright, high in the night sky for the Magi to see and praise, as Matthew claims. The timing here also makes sense because the Biblical account claims that the Magi found a toddler, not an infant. Thus, the stationing of Jupiter in trine aspect on December 6, 6 BC provides an acceptable, natural explanation for the timing of events. Powerful evidence supporting my theory about the astrological events of April 17, 6 BC as the basis for Matthew’s account lies in a major Roman astrological treatise discussing the birth of divine and immortal persons. In ca. AD 433 during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, Julius Firmicus Maternus, a Christian convert, wrote his Mathesis, explaining astrology. The book is a curious mixture of pagan and Christian allusions, which points to Firmicus’ conversion in transition. This bridge between two faiths is evident in a section of the Mathesis (3.3.9) about the horoscopes of divine and immortal persons. Firmicus first explains that the Moon must move toward Jupiter as one vital aspect, which harkens to the events of April 17, 6 BC. He then specifies the salient aspects in the horoscope of a person with “almost divine and immortal” characteristics. Roman law prohibited identifying the owner of a horoscope to prevent entrepreneurs and enemies from taking advantage of predictions, so astrologers would obliquely refer to the owner by citing accomplishments. This first example of a horoscope for a divine person has Jupiter in its exaltation in Cancer the Crab which is undoubtedly for Augustus Caesar, the “unconquerable general who governs the whole world” as Firmicus reminds us. Augustus was declared divine by the Roman Senate after his death. Referring to “almost” divine Augustus Caesar, Firmicus confirms his Roman pagan roots, but when he turns to a second, more important horoscope, his religious conversion is evident: This [the creation of divine and immortal persons] is especially true if the Sun in his exaltation is in trine aspect to Jupiter. For Jupiter rejoices by day when aspected by the Sun or Saturn, especially if he is in a morning rising. (Mathesis 3.3.9) The Sun is exalted only in Aries. For Jupiter to be in trine aspect to the Sun while also in morning rising, namely “in the east,” it too can only be in Aries. For Saturn to be in trine aspect, it must be in either Aries, Leo or Sagittarius. To presume that Saturn is in Aries while adding Firmicus’ requirement that the Moon should move towards Jupiter produces a perfect astrological description of the events of April 17, 6 BC. This is when Firmicus believed the birth of a divine and immortal person was “especially true.”


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If my theory is correct, the following scenario recaps the events: Two years before King Herod died, Near Eastern astrologers noticed an auspicious planetary alignment in a horoscope. A king was born under the sign of Aries the Ram. That zodiacal sign represented Judea and it held a conjunction of the Sun, Moon, Saturn and Jupiter. Jupiter became a morning star just when it had its close encounter with the Moon. This new King of the Jews could have been the anticipated Messiah. Waiting for the approaching hot summer days to pass, the astrologers made their way to Jerusalem during the cooler fall to locate the star-blessed child. They met with Herod, whose advisors pointed to Bethlehem as the prophesied birthplace. Leaving Herod, the astrologers notice a secondary astrological event—the retrograde motion of Jupiter in Aries. It is now almost winter when, according to biblical accounts, they find the child.

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Now we can understand why astronomers have advocated spectacular, visible events as explanations of the Star, since these fit modern scientific ways of thinking. But these notions fail to examine the actual historical practices of ancient times. These incorrect analyses of the historical record only raise doubts about any natural explanation. But by opening our minds to accepting the historical and astrological evidence, we now know how a morning star became the Star of Bethlehem. w

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No proof that Jesus was born on this date exists. But Jews and Zoroastrian magi would have thought that the much-prophesied Messiah was born on this auspicious day. It is likely that faithful followers presumed that Jesus was born under this regal star, making him the Messiah. But as astrology lost its influence, and the actual birth date was never recorded, the true nature of the biblical star became mythical and confused by religious fervor. The adoption of the pagan Roman holiday of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (December 25) as the birth date, and the erroneous counting of the BC–AD era system miscalculated by Dionysius Exiguus, the 6th century Scythian monk, added to the confusion.

Jupiter’s Path in the Sky

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Orbit of Jupiter

1 4

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5 Orbit of Earth

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Sun

Endnote 1.

Firmicus Maternus, Julius, Ancient Astrology Theory and Practice: Matheseos Libri VII, Trans. Jean Rhys Bram (Park Ridge, N.J.: Noyes Press, 1975).

Figure 3. “Going before”—nowadays called retrograde motion —is an optical illusion that shifts the motion of a distant planet against the background stars. Illustration adaptation by Wayne Kleppe. Original illustration courtesy of the author.


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Noon

1pm 2pm

10am

3pm

9am

4pm

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11am

(Home

5pm

Sky of the

8am

Gods)

7am

6pm

6am

The Earths Surface Dusk

8pm

4am

Underworld (Home of the Dead)

9pm 10pm

Dawn

3am 2am

1am

11pm

Midnight

(This page). Tzotzil Maya diagram of the sun’s daily path. Illustration adapted from Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1999) Figure 1.1. Illustration adaptation by Wayne Kleppe. Original illustration courtesy of the author. (Facing Page). Image courtesy of Flickr member mybulldog.


Maya Ethnoastronomy by Susan Milbrath

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thnoastronomy became a focus of study for cultural anthropologists in the 1970s when ethnographers began to

gather integrated data on traditional astronomical beliefs and practices among indigenous cultures. Even though anthropologists have recorded information on native calendars and cosmological beliefs for over a century, indigenous astronomy has often been marginalized in broader studies of cultural practices. Remaining rooted in the framework of cultural anthropology, ethnoastronomy now focuses attention on traditional indigenous astronomy. Considering the area of Mesoamerica, the most detailed information about ethnoastronomy comes from highland Guatemala, where researchers themselves have become shamans or religious practitioners.1, 2 This has led to a more sophisticated understanding of astronomy in specific cultural contexts. Such studies reveal some unique astronomical concepts in individual communities in the Maya region, an

area spanning from Yucatan, Mexico, south to just beyond the border of Honduras. Some astronomical concepts seem to be shared by different communities. The Milky Way is visualized as a serpent or a road and is sometimes considered to be the realm of the dead, and there is a widespread belief that the souls of the dead are transformed into stars.3 Accounts of other cosmological concepts seem quite diverse, even within the same language group.4 Explanations of where the sun goes at night show considerable variation. For example, the Chol in Chiapas, Mexico say the sun goes into his house during the night, but other Maya groups visualize the sun climbing down a tree or passing through a cave in the underworld, traveling to the underworld in a gourd, or carried by dwarfs through the underworld (Milbrath, 21-23). Indigenous Maya farmers generally predict planting time and seasonal changes by watching the sun, moon, and certain stars (Milbrath, 13-15, 30-31). The Pleiades, a star cluster with six bright stars, are still observed to time the planting at the beginning of the rainy season among a wide range of


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Maya populations (Milbrath, 8). A number of Maya groups believe that the lunar phases affect rainfall, but often other astronomical observations are involved. For example, among the Chorti Maya, predictions about rainfall in the agricultural cycle are most often based on observations of the moon, Pleiades, and the Milky Way and occasionally on the luminosity of Venus.5, 6

26

Astronomical observations are just one of many indicators of seasonal cycles. The turtle stars among the Yucatec Maya, variously identified as Gemini or neighboring stars in Orion, may be linked to the season that sea turtles are laying their eggs (Milbrath, 39, 59, 266-267). Gemini and Orion are very prominent in the month when turtles lay their eggs, and this natural cycle was noted for the month of Mac in the eighteenthcentury Maya text, Chilam Balam of Chumayel. The Quiche Maya watch for the movements of migrating hawks as a seasonal sign, and they also recognize a hawk constellation in the sky, coordinating the hawk migration with the position of the constellation.7

today.9 Other interesting survivals of colonial period concepts include references to Venus as the “wasp star,” the moon goddess as a patroness of childbirth, and the identification of the Milky Way with a serpent (Milbrath, 34, 40, 141, 282).10 Although this article serves only as a brief introduction to the ethnoastronomical discussion of the Maya region in Mesoamerica, with the dome of heaven as a space we all share, it is not surprising that there are many overlaps in patterns in cultural astronomy in different areas, extending far into the past. The celestial events themselves establish some uniform patterns, and keying seasonal events to changes in the skies remains an integral part of our relationship with the cosmos. Some of these shared concepts clearly serve pragmatic goals, as in predictions of seasonal change and cycles in nature, but others seem linked with some innate bond with the celestial realm. Religion certainly is one way of formulating this relationship. Space travel is another. While we travel in spaceships, shamanic trips to the heavens and voyages after death to the stars of the Milky Way are a mainstay of New World starlore. w

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Among some Tzotzil communities in Chiapas, Mexico, four gods hold up the heavens at the four corners, corresponding to the solstice positions of the sun on the horizon (Lamb, 168). The Yucatec Maya of Yalcoba describe the four corners of the sky as being equivalent to the solstice extremes.8 One colonial-period Maya source links the macaw to the noon sun, and people who were ill made offerings to the sun at noon to ask for healing, a practice that continues today among the Yucatec Maya (Milbrath, 94). Even today, Maya priests of Yalcoba make petitions to the noon sun, when they believe that there is a sky opening that provides a conduit directly up to the sun (Sosa, 139-140).

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Similar patterns of continuity in astronomical concepts are seen in comparing ethnographic accounts with terminology in sixteenth-century Yucatec dictionaries and chronicles (Milbrath, 40-41). Before he became the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Yucatan, Friar Diego de Landa Calderón wrote a chronicle in 1566 that tells us that the Maya told time at night by observing the Pleiades (“rattlesnake’s rattle), Gemini (“fire drill”), and Venus (“lucero”). Venus and the Pleiades bear these names even

This article is adapted from, “Archaeoastronomy, Ethnoastronomy, and Cultural Astronomy,” in Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage, eds. Ann Garrison Darrin and Beth Laura O’Leary (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2009). Printed with permission of the author and publisher.

Dr. Milbrath has published many articles and a book, Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars (University of Texas Press, 1999), as a result of her long-term research on the Mesoamerican worldview, which has demonstrated links between astronomy and seasonal ceremonies, identifying a number of important religious images related to astronomy. She also is conducting continuing research on Mesoamerican astronomy with a focus on comparative imagery linking Central Mexico and the Maya area, and has just completed a book manuscript on astronomical imagery in the Codex Borgia, a Central Mexican manuscript dating around A.D. 1500.


Endnotes 1.

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(Left). Image courtesy of stock.xchg member Andres Ojeda

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Tarn, Nathaniel and Prechtel, Martin, “Constant Inconstancy: The Feminine Principal in Atiteco Mythology,” in Symbol and Meaning Beyond the Closed Community: Essays in Mesoamerican Ideas, Gossen, G.H., ed. (Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, State University of new York at Albany, 1986) 173-184. 2. Tedlock, Barbara, Time and the Highland Maya, (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press). 3. Milbrath, Susan, Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1999) 40-41 (hereafter cited in text as Milbrath). 4. Lamb, Weldon, “Tzotzil Maya Cosmology,” in Songs from the Sky: Indigenous Astronomical and Cosmological Traditions of the World, Chamberlain, V.D., Carlson, J.B., and Young, M.J., eds. (College Park, MD: Center for Archaeoastronomy, 2005) 163-172 (hereafter cited in text as Lamb). 5. Girard, Raphael, Los chortis ante el problema maya, vol. 2, (Mexico City: Colección Cultura Precolumbiana, 1949). 6. Girard, Raphael, Los maya eternos, (Mexico City: Libro Mex Editores) 1962. 7. Tedlock, Barbara, “Hawks, Meteorology and Astronomy in Quiché-Maya Agriculture,” in Archaeoastronomy: The Journal of the Center for Archaeoastronomy vii, 80-89 (1985). 8. Sosa, John, R., “Cosmological, Symbolic, and cultural complexity among the Contemporary Maya of Yucatan,” in World Archaeoastronomy: Selected Papers from the Second Oxford International Conference on Archaeoastronomy, A.F. Aveni, ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989) 132 (hereafter cited in text as Sosa). 9. Lamb, Weldon, “Star Lore in the Yacatec Maya Dictionaries,” in Archaeoastronomy in the Americas, Williamson, R.A., ed. (Los Altos, CA: Bellena Press) 233-248. 10. Tozzer, Alfred, M., “Landa’s Relación de las Cosas de Yucatán,” Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, vol 18 (Cambridge, MA: The Peabody Museum) 258.

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The Chemical 27

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The periodic table of the elements

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emember chemistry class in school? That bleached out periodic table of the chemical elements that must have been in the lab since whenever? The fancy web version? Ah, those were the days of fascination

(or dreadful confusion) with chemistry basics.

28 It’s the stars’ fault. Over the last 13.8 billion years, generations of them produced the chemical elements. Without stars, there would not be a solid earth. No life. There would be H and He . Some minuscule amount of Li . Nothing else. 1

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Now there are 118 chemical elements neatly listed in the periodic table. Their symbols tell of elements known since antiquity. For example, the symbols Au for gold and Fe for iron are derived from their Latin name aurum and ferrum. Many symbols reflect the geographic pride of their discoverers. Simple giveaways are francium Fr , germanium Ge and polonium Po . More subtle are Latin-based gallium Ga (from Gallia for France), Hf hafnium (from Hafnia for Copenhagen) and lutetium Lu (Lutetia for Paris). In other cases, the symbols abbreviate barely pronounceable names. It would not be difficult to confuse Pr praseodymium or dysprosium Dy with names of the latest prescription drugs. 79

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87

32

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31

72

71

Without stars,

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there would not be a solid earth.

The table contains more curious names. Long before scientists realized that elements originate in stars, the names people bestowed on celestial objects were also good enough to name an element. The outer planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto gave their names to Uranium U , Neptunium Np and Pu Plutonium . It was natural to name He after the Greek god Se helios when this element was first discovered in the Sun. Silver-shiny selenium is named after the Greek selene for the Moon, and tellurium Te after the Latin tellus for the Earth to keep the Earth-Moon pair together in the table. The asteroid Ceres, discovered in 1801, leant its name to cerium Ce , which was discovered two years later. Cerium belongs to the lanthanide series (atomic numbers 57 to 71), also called the “rare earth elements” because they were (incorrectly) thought to be rare on the Earth. They are not—but the name stuck.

No life.

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Every element is made of atoms, which each have a nucleus that cannot be divided any further by normal chemical reactions; that’s why the elements are the elements of chemistry. Splitting the nucleus in the atom requires much more energy than any chemical reaction with the same amount of material can provide. The reactions for changing one nucleus into another require extreme conditions realized only in the interiors of stars or in the explosions of hydrogen bombs.


Elements

Alphabetical Order by Symbol

Name

Atomic No.

89

Ac

Actinium

89

Silver

47

Aluminum

13

47

Ag

13

Al

95

Americium 95

18

U

Why use names and symbols if an element’s atomic number already describes its properties and position in the periodic table? It just doesn’t have the same aura to answer the question, “What’s your wedding band made of?” with “Element number 79.” Or imagine formulas of compounds made of different elements. Using atomic numbers instead of symbols would turn H2O for water (made of two hydrogen H atoms and one oxygen O atom) into 128. Incomprehensible. Keep the symbols. 1

8

In the top row of the periodic table is H , with an atomic number of one and He with two. Reading left to right from the top row downward, the elements are arranged according to their increasing proton counts. In order to keep the table’s width in a practical format, the lanthanides (with numbers 57 to 71) and the actinides (with numbers 89 to 103) are listed separately from the main table in two rows at the bottom. These elements also have similar chemical properties determined by their particular electron arrangements— another good reason to single them out. Elements up to atomic number 92 are available to us without turning on a nuclear reactor. Exceptions are the unstable elements number 43, Tc , and 61, Pm . If these radioactive elements were present during the solar system’s formation, they have long since decayed. All 1

2

43

61

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The majority of the elements in existence are here to stay. When our solar system is recycled back into the interstellar medium (which won’t happen for another 4.5 billion years—no need to worry about losing our planet any time soon), the elements will go into new planetary systems and stars. It’s in these stars that the number of protons in an atom changes and you get another element. All of the elements that are so vital for our existence come from H and He , and originated in different stars, at different times, in different galaxies throughout the cosmos, including our own Milky Way. 1

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Arsenic

33

Astatine

85

Gold

79

B

Boron

5

Ba

Barium

56

Beryllium

4

Bohrium

107

Bismuth

83

Berkelium

97

Br

Bromine

35

C

Carbon

6

Ca

Calcium

20

Cadmium

48

Cerium

58

As

85

At

92

92

90

Argon

33

2

79

Au

5

56

29

4

Be

107

Bh

83

Bi

97

Bk

35

6

20

48

Cd

58

Ce

98

Cf

Californium 98

17

Cl

Chlorine

17

Curium

96

Cobalt

27

Chromium

24

Cesium

55

Copper

29

96

The lighter elements are fuel and seeds for building heavier ones in stars. The lightest elements, H and He , come from the Big Bang. Every heavy element is a descendant of H and He , and was produced by a variety of nuclear reactions at some point in the existence of the 13.8 billion–year-old cosmos. But 2

1

1

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The atoms of each element have a unique number of positively charged protons in their nuclei. The proton charges are neutralized by an equal number of negatively charged electrons surrounding the nucleus. The number of protons (or electrons) is the atomic number, which determines the position of an element in the periodic table.

90

Ar

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elements with atomic numbers above eighty-three are radioactive and decay over time. While elements with the highest atomic numbers are stable for split seconds at best, Th and U decay over billions of years—at a rate so slow that they still occur naturally. The other, heavier elements are only known as man-made products. The radioactive nuclei of Th and U and other longlived nuclides (that is, radioactive isotopes of otherwise stable elements such as K ) find practical uses in radiometric age dating of terrestrial and extraterrestrial rocks, nuclear power reactors and weaponry.

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Am

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Cs

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Cu


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Cosmochemical Periodic Table of the

1 1.00e12

H

3

1

2140 4

Li

... ... element symbol temperature where 50% of an element is ... ... in the gas and 50% in solids and liquids Tc (K) at a total pressure of 0.0001 bar box color: s=solid solution lithophile chalcophile siderophile atmophile

EL

23.6

Be

1142 s 1452 s 112,230,000 12 3.95e7

Na

Mg

958 s 1336 19 145,000 202,330,000 21

K

Ca

12

1.00e12 ... ... number of atoms per trillion (10 ) H atoms

1,330 22

Sc

95,300 23

Ti

11,000 24 504,000 25 355,000 26 3.27e7 27 90,400 281,890

V

Cr

Mn

1006 s 1517 1659 s 1582 1429 s 1296 s 1158 s 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 274 902 179 416 30.1 98.3

Rb

Sr

Y

Zr

Nb

Mo

799 s 87

Fr

Ba

1455 s 88

Ra

La

1578 s 89

Ac

Hf

1684 s 104

Ta

W

1573 s 105

Rf

1789 s 106

Db 58

45.5 59

Ce Th

1659 s

Pa

Ni

1334

1352 s 1353 45 46 68.7 14.3

Ru

Re

Rh

Os

1812 s 108

Bh

6.55 60

1478 s 1582 s 90 91 1.35

44

Co

Pd

1551 s 1392 s 1324 76 77 78 2.14 26.2 25.9

1821 s 107

Sg

Pr

Fe

Tc

800 s 1464 s 1659 s 1741 1559 s 1590 s 55 56 57 72 73 74 14.3 172 17.6 6.01 0.811 5.28 75

Cs

refract commo volatile highly

33..0 61

Nd

1602 s 92 0.344 93

U

1610 s

Ir

1603 s 109

Hs

Ds

10.2 63

Sm

1590 s 94

Np

1408 110

Mt 62

Pm

Pt

Pu

Eu

1356 95

Am


2 9.68e10

He.

toms 5

refractory common volatile highly volatile

B

8.18e7 8

C

6.07e8 9

N

31,000 10 1.27e8

O

F

Ne

Cu

Zn

Al

Si

P

1653

1310

1229

664

Ga

Ge

As

Se

1,410 32

4,420 33

S

235 34

Cl

Ar

948 s 47 35 36 2,600 413 2,150

Br

Kr

352 s

1353 s 1037 s 726 s 968 s 883 s 1065 s 697 s 546 s 52 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 14.3 52.4 18.9 60.7 6.86 139 12.1 181 42.3 210

Rh

Pd

Ag

Cd

In

Sn

Sb

Te

I

392 s

Ir

1324 s 996 s 652 s 536 s 704 s 979 s 709 s 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 25.9 49.1 7.50 17.7 7.03 128 5.33

Pt

603 s

1408 s 110

Mt

590 s

Pu

1060 s 111

Ds

10.2 63

Sm

Au

Rg

3.79 64

Eu

1356 s 95

Am

Hg

1659 s 96

Cm

Pb

Bi

Po

252 s 112

532 s 113

727 s 114

746 s 115

112

113

114

115

13.9 65

Gd

Tl

2.44 66

Tb

1659 s 97

Bk

15.6 67

Dy

1659 s 98

Cf

3.51 68

Ho

1659 s 99

Es

85

116

Er

1659 s 100

Fm

535 s

Rn

Tm

1659 s 101

Md

118

(117)

1.56 70

68

86

At (117)

116

10.1 69

Xe

118

9.88 71

Yb

1487 s 102

No.

1.46

Lu

1659 s 103

Lr (c) K. Lodders

Figure 1. The periodic table of the elements with cosmochemical information. Courtesy of the author.

Cosmos

Ni

2.77e8 7

908 s 40 123 180 734 s 9.1 133,260,000 14 3.86e7 15 320,000 16 1.62e7 17 199,000 183,570,000

90,400 281,890,000 29 20,900 30 50,000 31

Co

725 6

winter 2010

t is ds

<3

volume 2.4

e of the Elements in the Solar System

31


in all this time, a comparatively small amount of heavy elements was made. These heavy elements comprise only about one to two percent of the mass of all matter as we know it. H and He still rule.

U 0.344 Th 1.35

1

5.33 Bi

1

Hg 17.7

Glimpse  

www.glimpsejournal.com

7.50 Au

Pt 49.1

25.9 Ir 2.14 Re

1

Os 26.2 W 5.28 Hf 6.01

0.811 Ta 1.46 Lu

1

Er 10.1

3.51 Ho

Dy 15.6

2.44 Tb

Gd 13.9

3.79 Eu

Sm 10.2

0 Pm

Nd 33.0

6.65 Pr

1

Ce 45.5 Ba 172

14.3 Cs

Xe 210

42.3 I 12.1 Sb

Te 181 Cd 60.7

18.9 Ag

Pd 52.4

14.3 Rh 0 Tc

Ru 68.7 Mo 98.3

30.1 Nb

Zr 416

179 Y

Sr 902

274 Rb

Kr 2,150

413 Br

Se 2,600

235 As

Ge 4,420

1,410 Ga

Zn 50,000

20,900 Cu

Ni 1,890,000

90,400 Co 356,000 Mn 11,000 V 1,330 Sc

Fe 32,700,000 Cr 504,000 Ti 95,300 Ca 2,330,000

145,000 K

Ar 3,570,000

199,000 Cl

S 16,200,000

320,000 P

Si 38,600,000

3,260,000 Al 2,230,000 Na

Mg 39,500,000 Ne 127,000,000

31,000 F

23.6 Be

725 B 2,140 Li

2

The materials needed for making the Earth and other terrestrial planets were rock, rock, rock and rock, and likely some ice. The physical state (solid, liquid, or gas) of the compounds that contain the elements in the accretion disk ultimately determined the amount of each element that became available on Earth. Some

Sn 139

6.86 In

2

2

Yb 9.88

1.56 Tm

17.6 La 32

2

If H and He are so overwhelmingly dominant, why are the Earth, Mercury, Venus and Mars not engulfed in thick atmospheres of H and He ? The short answer is: These planets are too small. Their gravity is too low. They never could attract and capture huge amounts of H and He from the accretion disk—the rotating disk consisting of gas and dust from which all objects in the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago. On the other hand, Jupiter and Saturn had enough gravity to capture gas and become gas giants largely made of H and He . They are almost like the Sun in elemental composition, but are much too small to ignite thermonuclear reactions.

Pb 128

7.03 Tl

2

81,800,000 N

O 607,000,000 C 277,000,000 He 96,800,000,000

1,000,000,000,000 H

1

H 1

6

7

8

10

18

36

elements like H , C , N , O and the noble gases— He , Ne , Ar , Kr and Xe —readily form volatile compounds that were never efficiently captured by the planets during their formation, or were easily evaporated from rocky material in space. These elements are shown in gray boxes in Figure 1. Several elements like Mg , Si , Al , Ca and Ti form oxides that combine into silicates, or silicon dioxide-bearing minerals like those found in rocks on Earth, on other planets and in meteorites. These elements are “lithophile,” or “rockloving,” and are represented in green boxes. Elements such as Ni , Au , W and Ru form a metal alloy and are “siderophile,” or “iron-loving” elements, represented in blue boxes. Other elements such as S , Se and Hg like to be in sulfides and are “chalcophile,” or “sulfur-loving” elements (yellow boxes). Elements can have affinities to more than one phase. For example, in meteorites, Fe is found in metal, silicates and sulfides, as indicated in Figure 1 by the three different colors of its element box. 2

12

14

13

54

20

28

22

79

74

44

16

34

80

26

The information listed under the element symbols in the periodic table indicates the temperature at which an element is evenly distributed between solid and gaseous compounds. The liquid state is “skipped” for most substances because the solid substances formed by the elements in the accretion disk would evaporate before they would melt. These “50%” condensation or evaporation temperatures are calculated using chemical thermodynamics. The resulting values are reasonable guides

Figure 2. The abundances of the elements per one trillion hydrogen atoms. Courtesy of the author.


105

Db

Dubnium

105

110

Ds

Darmstadtium 110

66

Dy

Dysprosium 66

68

Er

1

2

1

3

4

Es

4

26

73

12

8

14

26

1

Eu

9

F

12

Elements even

more abundant are

26

28

T

79

26

26

63

Fluorine

9

Fe

Iron

26

Fermium

100

Francium

87

Gallium

31

100

Fm

87

Fr

31

Ga

64

Gd

Gadolinium 64 33

32

Ge

1

H

Germanium 32 Hydrogen

1

Helium

2

Hafnium

72

Mercury

80

Holmium

67

Hassium

108

I

Iodine

53

In

Indium

49

Ir

Iridium

77

K

Potassium 19

Kr

Krypton

2

He

72

Hf

80

Hg

67

Ho

108

Hs

53

49

77

19

36

36

57

La

Lanthanum 57

Li

Lithium

3

3

103

Lr

Lawrencium 103

71

Lu

Cosmos

14

26

Europium

26

92

1

Einsteinium 99

winter 2010

26

68

63

5

1

Erbium

99

volume 2.4

to understanding how the element the almost 13 orders of magnitudes of abundances— content of planetary objects is regulated. that is thirteen times a multiplication factor of ten. But there are always exceptions to such The scale is fixed at one trillion (1012) H atoms. The simple rules. Elements with low second element, He , is roughly a factor of ten (one condensation temperatures (indicated magnitude) less abundant than H . Next are Li , Be by the white numbers under element and B with quite small abundances. Per one trillion H atoms there are only 23.6 Be atoms. The symbols in Figure 1) tend to form gases (elements in gray boxes). Other elements subsequent elements are much more abundant again condense at very high temperatures and values increase up to Fe . After Fe , abundances (red numbers). They are either lithophiles drop significantly. Ta has the lowest abundance of or siderophiles. Mg , Si (in silicates with any stable element with only 0.8 atoms per one trillion O ) and Fe (in metal and in silicates) H atoms. Radioactive U has 0.34 atoms per 1012 H atoms, and more will decay in the next few billion are the major elements in rocky bodies like the Earth and Moon. Si , Mg and years—nuclear power plants may run low on fuel. Fe condense at temperatures lower than the more refractory elements (as A striking feature of the abundances is the zig-zag indicated by the numbers in black). distribution with increasing atomic numbers (Figure 2). Compounds of elements stable at Elements with even atomic numbers are more intermediate temperatures (blue abundant than their odd-numbered neighbors. The numbers) include elements with all American chemist William Draper Harkins affinities–lithophile, (1873-1951) and Italian siderophile and chemist Giuseppe Oddo chalcophile. Many with (1865-1954) noticed numbers are followed this in the 1910s. by an “s” to indicate atomic numbers Lacking analytical data, that the element they could only detect dissolves in phases this behavior for made by more elements up to number abundant elements. than 26 ( Fe ). The zig-zag For example, Fe structure in Figure 2 usually forms most their odd-numbered reflects the nuclear of any metal present properties of atoms in the accretion disk neighbors that make an element. or terrestrial planets However, in the 1910s, because it is so not much was known abundant, and less abundant elements about atomic structure. The proton was discovered such as Ni and Au alloy the with Fe . in 1919, and the neutron (uncharged particle otherwise comparable to protons) in 1932. Since then, the zig-zag structure has become quite well How much of each? understood, starting with the pioneering work by E. he latest abundances, or relative Margaret Burbidge, Geoffrey R. Burbidge, William A. quantities of elements in the solar Fowler and Fred Hoyle (“B2FH”) and independently, system, are listed in the top right Alistair G.W. Cameron, all in 1957. corner of each element box in Figure 1. A graphical version is Figure 2. The The abundance of an element depends on the horizontal axis is on a logarithmic stability of its atomic nuclei during thermonuclear scale—there is no other way to depict reactions in stellar interiors. The nuclei of all atoms

Luthetium

71


Glimpse  

www.glimpsejournal.com

26

34

Fe

contain neutrons (except H , where only a minority of its atoms have one neutron accompanying the proton; these isotopes of H are called deuterium). An atom of a given element always has the same number of protons, but the number of neutrons can vary. For example, U has two isotopes, or kind of atoms, with combined proton and neutron numbers of 235 and 238. Of those, 92 are always protons. 1

1

92

Figure 3 shows the number of isotopes for each element. Like the elemental abundances in Figure 2, the number of isotopes reveals a corresponding up-anddown pattern. A low number of stable isotopes for odd numbered elements means a lower overall elemental abundance compared to the even numbered neighboring elements. This is a simplified explanation for the oddeven abundance distribution noted by Harkins and Oddo.

photosphere. When the white light of the Sun is broken through a prism, its spectrum of colors becomes visible—just as sunlight breaking through the rain to give a rainbow. A very detailed inspection of the color spectrum shows that there are “dark” bars; where color is missing. The light from the Sun has to pass through the Sun’s outermost layers, and the elements in those layers absorb some of the light at specific colors, or wavelengths, which gives the characteristic absorption lines of an element in the spectrum. However, some elements have only weak or blended absorption lines and are difficult to measure. In 1929, the American astronomer Henry Norris Russell (1877-1957) reported the abundances of 56 elements in the solar photosphere. (Happy 80th birthday to the first quantitative analysis of elements in the Sun!) Ancient rocks—meteorites

A

bout 200 years ago, it was accepted that meteorites were dust grain-sized to trailer-sized asteroid fragments falling to Earth. At that time, the periodic table did not exist and many elements had yet to be discovered. Over time it became clear that rocks—both terrestrial and from space—are mainly comprised of only a few elements.

Take something

huge

By 1847, the French geologist Élie de Beaumont (1798-1874) had assembled a list for the known elements of the time. He found there were 16 elements that are the most distributed ones over the Earth’s surface...The surface of the Earth encloses in all its parts everything that is essential for the existence of meteorites organized beings; it provides a new and striking example of the harmony that exists in all parts of nature. The 16 elements can be found in volcanic productions, in mineral waters, and one sees that nature has provided not only a settlement but also the conservation of this indispensable harmony. The aging Earth will never cease to furnish all the elements to the organized beings necessary for their existence.1

and something tiny the

Sun and

Data on abundances—where from?

S

o what should we analyze to get the elemental abundances in the solar system? Take something huge and something tiny—the Sun and meteorites. The Sun is a good representative for the overall elemental composition of the solar system, occupying more than 99% of its total mass. Many elements can be analyzed in the Sun by measuring the strengths of their absorption lines in the light emitted from the solar

About 20 years later, spectroscopy revealed the same elements in comets, the Sun and other stars. It became apparent that the elements in different celestial objects do not occur at random. Around the same

Figure 3 (Facing Page). The number of isotopes for each element. The element mass numbers are on the vertical axis and the corresponding element symbols are laid in the background. The horizontal axis has no scale as the number of boxes representing the isotopes of each element is still easily countable. The color indicates if the sum of protons and neutrons is an even number (bluishpurple) or uneven number (yellowish). Courtesy of the author.


101

Md

Mendelevium 101

12

Mg Mn

U

90

Magnesium 12

25

Th

Manganese 25

42

Mo

Molybdenum 42

109

80 Os

70

Yb

50

Sb Ag

40

Nb

Br

30 Co

20

10

K

Na

Li

0

Hg

W

Ta

Ba Te Cd

Mo

Kr

htt Ni

Ca

Mg

Be

Tl

N

Nitrogen

7

Re

Na

Sodium

11

Niobium

41

41

Nb

Tm

60

Nd

T .html TENNiribe ON bscNo C Y /su Np m ONL o - l.c O a ON I n T our Os P I j R e C ps P m i l g SUBS Pa . w w Pb w / / p:

Tb

Er

Ho

Dy

La

Ce

Pr

Ru

Al

B

10

Nickel

28

Rh

Xe

93

Nobelium

102

Sn

8

Pd

76

Neptunium 93 Oxygen

8

Osmium

76

15

Y

Sr

Rb

Sc

Neon

28

102

In

Cu

Eu

Ne

Nd

I

Tc

Neodymium 60

10

Sm

Cs

Meitnerium 109

7

11

Hf

Lu

60 Atomic Number of Element (number of protons)

Atomic Number of Element (number of protons)

Gd

Au

Pt

Ir

Mt

Bi

Pb

Zr

Phosphorus 15

91

Protactinium 91

Zn

Ti

Si

C

Ga

V

P

N

Ge

As

Se

82

Lead

82

Palladium

46

46

Pd

Cr

Mn

Fe

61

Pm

Promethium 61

84

Po

S

Cl

Ar

Polonium

84

59

Pr

Praseodymium 59

78

Pt

O

F

Ne

Number of Kinds of Atoms for Each Element Number of Kinds of Atoms for Each Element (number of isotopes) (number of isotopes)

78

Pu

Plutonium

94

Radium

88

Rubidium

37

Rhenium

75

88

Ra

He.

H

Platinum

94

37

Rb

75

Re

104

Rf

Rutherfordium 104


www.glimpsejournal.com Glimpse  

time, Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) established the periodic table according to atomic weights and chemical properties of the elements. The race was on to find all of the “missing” elements and to measure their abundances in an international scientific competition not unlike the Olympics. About a century ago, scientists figured out that meteorites provide the best material samples from the time of the solar system’s formation. Knowing the age of meteorites reveals the age of everything in the solar system. The age can be determined by U - Pb dating by measuring the amount of the Pb isotopes from decay of the U isotopes.2 High precision mass spectrometric measurements of the Pb isotopic composition of mineral phases from meteorites identify the earliest solids in our solar system as being 4.567 billion years old. On the geologically active Earth, volcanism, plate tectonics and erosion make old rocks hard to find. But such widespread changes did not happen on many asteroids where meteorites come from. 92

82

82

92

82

36

82

Pb

The relative abundances of the non-volatile elements in the solar photosphere and in CI chondrite agree very well with eachother. These meteorites retained the solar proportions of all heavy elements—except for the low abundance of volatile elements. The condensation temperatures included in Figure 1 are examples of the temperatures necessary for each element to remain in these rocks. It took until the 1970s to recognize the significance of CI chondrites because they are very rare. Of about 1,000 observed meteorite falls throughout history from which material is still preserved, only 5 are CI chondrites. Among the 40,000 meteorites collected in Antarctica since 1969, less than 5 or so are CI chondrites. To make matters worse, people have been able to collect very few usable samples before the next rain washed these fragile meteorites away. The small amount of material left for study (about 20 kg, or 40 lbs) is from only three meteorites! The most famous one, Orgueil, is probably one of the most analyzed rocks on this planet. The abundances are periodically updated as new analytical models for the solar atmosphere are developed and analytical tools for rock analyses are refined. An update of solar system abundances derived from solar and meteoritic data recently appeared.3 These updated values are used in the figures here.

Differences in the make-up of meteorites That inspire lively discussions among the meteoriticists on your finger is of material who study them. Some meteorites that have made more than seen melting, break-up and reconsolidation are ago in... not very pristine. For Universal origins most of the past century, scientists used he Sun and the solar system chondrites—meteorites as a whole have an elemental that did not experience these processes to a large composition similar to that of many nearby stars. Stars closer to extent—to obtain representative solar system the dense center of our Milky Way galaxy contain more of the abundances of non-volatile elements. Chondrites are heavy elements than do stars in the thinly populated outer regions. named after the Greek chondros for sphere because Although there are similarities in the elemental make-ups of these meteorites contain up to pea-size silicate different materials, there is no fixed “cosmic” composition. Element spheres. In the 1970s, scientists recognized a production has gone on since the Universe was born, and the chondrite sub-group, the “CI-chondrites,” as the most element mix varies with time and throughout space. important for abundance determinations (CI stands for “Carbonaceous,” or carbon-rich, and Ivuna, the Stars like the Sun continue to gently burn H into He in their city in Tanzania where the prototype of these centers; this is the major reaction that makes them shine. It is meteorites fell in 1938). comforting to know that the stars in the cosmos not only supply the

shiny ring

4.5 billion

violently exploding stars years

T

1

2


111

Rg

Roentgenium 111

45

Rh

Rhodium

45

Radon

86

86

Rn

44

Ru

16

S

Ruthenium 44 Sulfur

16

Antimony

51

Scandium

21

Selenium

34

51

21

Sc

34

elements of life, but at the same time supply the energy in sunshine to sustain it.

106

Sg

14

Si

Seaborgium 106

When H is used up in the center, large and small stars convert He into C and O . Heavier elements like Si and Fe are only made from lighter elements in massive stars that end up as supernovae. The nuclear fusion reactions that create the elements up through Fe in the periodic table release energy. However, it takes energy to make elements heavier than iron, which is one reason why abundances of these elements drop quite a bit. 6

2

8

62

14

26

26

26

htt

Samarium

62

Tin

50

Strontium

38

Tantalum

73

Terbium

65

37

38

explosions. That shiny ring on your finger is of material made more than 4.5 billion years ago in large, violently exploding stars.

And where do the elements that make us come from? The human body is about 10% H , 63% O , 21% C , 3% N , 1.5% Ca and other elements make another 1.5%. Maybe up to half of the C and N is from giant stars, the other half from supernovae. The O , Ca and most of the other elements are also mainly supernova products. That makes us about 78% supernova, 12% giant stars, and, from H , 10% big bang. 1

8

6

73

65

43

Technetium 43

6

20

52

7

8

20

Tellurium

52

Thorium

90

Titanium

22

Tl

Thallium

81

Tm

Thulium

69

U

Uranium

92

V

Vanadium

23

W

Tungsten

74

Xenon

54

Yttrium

39

Ytterbium

70

Zinc

30

Zirconium

40

90

22

1

81

Truly cosmic. w

69

Endnotes

92

1.

de Beaumont, Élie, “Note sur les emanations volcaniques et metalliferes,” Bulletin de la Societe

23

Geologique de France (2) vol. 4, (1847) 1249-1333. 2.

Amelin, Y, Krot, A.N., Hutcheon, I.A. and Ulyanov, A.A., “Lead Isotopic Ages of Chondrules and CalciumAluminum-Rich Inclusions,” Science 297, (2002) 1678-1683.

If we know how an element is made, we also know in what kind of star it was made. So, for example, what types of stars provide element 79? It’s almost completely made in supernova

14

50

26

7

Most elements beyond Fe are built up when the nuclei of some lighter elements are bombarded with neutrons. This either happens slowly in giant stars over the course of 100 to 100,000 years, or rapidly in less than 10 seconds during supernova explosions. The fine structures in Figure 2 correspond to regions where production is favored by slow or rapid neutron capture. Details about the origins of elements at these “peaks” are still not completely clear, and evaluations of nucleosynthetic models critically depend on the quality of the known elemental and isotopic abundances.

Silicon

3.

Cosmos

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1

winter 2010

Se

volume 2.4

Sb

Lodders, K., Palme, H., and Gail, H.P., “Abundances of

74

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Xe

39

the elements in the solar system,” in LandoltBörnstein (New Series) vol. 6/4B, Ch. 4.4, J.E. Trümper (ed.), (Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer-Verlag, 2009) 560-630.

Y

70

Yb

30

Zn

40

Zr


Exploring Mars and the

Glimpse â&#x20AC;&#x192;

www.glimpsejournal.com

by Ross A. Beyer

38

At one point...there were four orbiting spacecraft, one polar lander and two rovers all operating at the same time on a planet fifty million miles away

This view looks east along Ius Chasma, where a large landslide has occurred, leaving a large theater-shaped alcove in the wall and debris that spread out into the floor of the chasma.


Moon Using Google Earth

C

uriosity drives many aspects of human nature. Our motivation to explore new and interesting places manifests in many ways—our exploration of the worlds in our solar system being one of

them. These are places in the sky, worlds that someday we may walk on, although we cannot do so today. But we’ve captured enough data to provide a reasonable visual simulation of what it might look like to fly over the surface, or stand on the soil of a planet other than our own.

Although we haven’t personally traveled to any of our solar system neighbors in almost four decades, we’ve built an awful lot of excellent robotic explorers to survey a good number of the planets and moons that orbit the Sun. Some of these places have gotten more attention than others. Mars, for example, has been visited by a large number of fly-by, orbital and landed spacecraft, starting in the 1970s with the Mariner and Viking spacecraft, and carrying on into recent years. Starting with the 1997 launch of the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft, through the 2007 launch of Phoenix, NASA had sent landers and a whole lot of orbiters at every launch window (about every two years) to Mars. The European Space Agency (ESA) also sent an orbiter, the Mars Express spacecraft (MEx). At one point during that ten-year span, there were four orbiting spacecraft, one polar lander and two rovers all operating at the same time on a planet fifty million miles away. While that’s nowhere near the number of satellites that orbit the Earth, they still managed to collect a whole lot of different kinds of data about our nearby, red neighbor. Currently, three spacecraft orbit Mars (two are

TM


I was given the spreadsheet, a large poster-sized map of Mars and a pen

(Facing Page) View of the Cerberus Fossae, a set of fractures on Mars. (Above Left) This view looks down the channel of Dao Vallis. (Above Center) This view of a hill in Melas Chasma shows HiRISE imagery (0.25 m/ pixel) draped over HRSC topography and shows layering within the hill itself, as well as little mass-wasting gullies and piles of debris. (Above Right) This is an image of a light-toned, layered mound in Juventae Chasma. This is a CTX image (6 m/pixel) overlaid on HRSC topography. (Below) This view of a region near Mawrth Vallis is HiRISE imagery (0.25 m/pixel) overlaaid on a terrain model derived from HiRISE stereo imagery.


volume 2.4 winter 2010 Cosmos 41

NASA’s and one is ESA’s), while two rovers drive across the surface, and have been doing so for six years! Our planetary spacecraft return a tremendous amount of data from Mars and other bodies. The collected information, which can be quite difficult to sort and visualize, includes images at different wavelengths and resolutions, as well as a host of maps derived from neutron counts, temperature measurements, etc. Putting all of this planetary information together in a useful way, for scientists and the general public alike, is what this article is about. But I’m getting ahead of myself. More than a decade ago, my first year of graduate school coincided with the beginning of the Mars Global Surveyor’s (MGS) mission around Mars. It was the first time since the Viking missions in the ’70s that the United States had put a spacecraft successfully in orbit around Mars after the 1990 loss of Mars Observer. My graduate advisor, Alfred McEwen, was a member of the science team for the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC). His first assignment for me was to determine the locations on Mars where MGS had cap-

tured its images. We had these beautiful, several-meter per pixel scale images of Mars, but they were difficult to work with without knowing their context. We also needed to know whether MOC had taken photos of the areas that we were interested in studying. Malin Space Science Systems, the camera operations center in San Diego, had specialized software for visualizing the image locations on a digital map of Mars—but that didn’t help us in Tucson. Instead, we had a spreadsheet that Alfred had brought back from a team meeting. It was the late 1990s, and with the Internet just starting to come into its own, we had very few ways to visualize locations like this. Geographic information systems (GIS) that are standard today were in their infancy then. So I was given the spreadsheet, a large poster-sized map of Mars and a pen.

I spent a few hours per day for a while manually marking the centers of these images on the map with the pen, which quickly grew tedious. I began to try my hand at writing software that would plot the locations of not just the centers of the images, but the entire outlines of where the images lay on digital Viking basemaps. Hard drives were tiny back then, and every time the software requested a map tile, a data jukebox in the server room would very slowly move the required CD into place, and the computer would read the map information and display it on screen. But my background was in physical sciences, not computer sciences. Although I had managed to create a little program that


GIS systems were often built for the Earth alone, and so to shoe-horn Mars images into them required lots of digital trickery and electronic sleight of hand

This image shows the variety of maps and coverages in the Western Candor Chasma region of Mars. Top left is the default map with higher-resolution insets. Top middle shows the outlines of HiRISE (red), CRISM (blue), and MOC (yellow) images. Top right is a THEMIS daytime infrared map, bottom right is a THEMIS nighttime infrared map, bottom center is a color-coded MOLA elevation map, and bottom left is the Viking MDIM coverage.


some members of our research group could use, it really wasn’t very good, and many other groups were starting to build similar systems.

Eventually, I got together with those exASU-now-Google engineers and a group of talented developers at NASA Ames Research Center to work on “planetary content.” For our first little test project, we spruced up Google Moon—also a web-based Maps interface but with lunar maps instead of Martian. The Google Moon website preceded Google Mars, and was released in 2005 (however, if you zoomed in all the way on the maps, you’d see a picture of cheese). So we replaced the cheese with accurate maps and some detailed content from each of the Apollo landing sites. People could wander around the map, follow the traverses of the various astronaut sorties in order or randomly sample the places where the astronauts stopped. This small project came together nicely and quickly, and then we sat down to start the big project that we all wanted to do—create a real, 3D Mars in the Google Earth client. If you’re not familiar with it, the Google Earth program displays a three-dimensional globe of the Earth

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I graduated from the University of Arizona and began a fellowship at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Around this same time, some of the engineers from ASU who had worked on Google Mars were now working at Google doing various Googley things, but they kept thinking about that web-based Mars map, and how it could be better.

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By this time, Google, Inc. had recently rolled out a very interesting, web-based maps application called Google Maps. A few of the ASU engineers convinced Google to host a site where the background map was of Mars, rather than Earth. And so the original Google Mars was born in 2006. It was a neat little thing. Users could choose from a limited variety of different Martian basemaps, which were only available on Google’s website. But you couldn’t really do anything with them besides look at them.

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As I moved on to pursuing my research on planetary surface geomorphology, I largely left the problem of locating spacecraft images to others within the planetary sciences community. But as technology matured, and expensive, proprietary geographical information systems developed, additional problems arose. These GIS systems were often built for the Earth alone, and so to shoe-horn Mars images into them required lots of digital trickery and electronic sleight of hand. This prompted a group at Arizona State University to pioneer the Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing (JMARS) system, a freely-distributed and highly useful GIS program designed with the planets in mind.

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overlaid with meter-scale satellite imagery, beautiful terrain and all kinds of information about different places. More importantly, the Google Earth client is really a kind of geospatial canvas for users to enter data and share information. We saw this potential for Google Mars. Many gigabytes of planetary data had been carefully recorded and sent back to Earth via NASA’s Deep Space Network, where they were lovingly analyzed by the science teams that designed, built and operated the instruments that produced them. Ultimately, this data all gets deposited in NASA’s Planetary Data System (PDS), which is the definitive archive of planetary mission data for anyone to look at and use. As we thought about the architecture for our virtual Mars, we began a detailed survey not only of the raw data available in the PDS, but also of the derived data products of various science teams and organizations like the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, AZ.

Mars had to look red (or at least butterscotch) when people started it up, or we’d have a lot of upset users

The first order of business was creating the basemaps: What basic map imagery should underlie everything? Cameras had provided us with accurate, black and white images. But we also needed good color information. Mars had to look red (or at least butterscotch) when people started it up, or we’d have a lot of upset users. So we started with the USGS’s Mars Digital Image Map (MDIM), a carefully built global map of images from the Viking orbiters in the 1970s. Then on top of that, we layered images from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on MEx that had good color information and covered lots of territory at tens of meters per pixel. Of course, we needed to colorize the places on the MDIM that weren’t covered by HRSC, so we pulled color information not only from the Viking images, but also from MGS’s wide angle camera. This set of imagery largely comprised the base layer, but we also peppered the planet with about 500 High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) images—mostly black and white with color strips down the middle—at their full 25 cm/pixel image scale to provide some examples of the best images from orbit.


This view shows some of the beautiful layered deposits of Terby Crater, and a few of the HiRISE images (0.25 m/pixel) which provide beautiful detail of these layers.

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The Google Moon website preceded Google Mars, and was released in 2005 (however, if you zoomed in all the way on the maps, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d see a picture of cheese)


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This image shows the variety of maps of the Moon available in Google Earth. Top left is the default map. Top right is a colorized topographic map. Bottom left is a geologic map, and bottom right is a historical topographic chart.


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View of the Apollo 11 landing site. You can see the historic map which underlies everything, as well as icons (red circles) which can be clicked on for more information, YouTube icons show historic footage, and the camera icons allow you to browse full-resolution panoramic photos taken by Armstrong and Aldrin.

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We also designed the application so that users could swap out the basic visual map for a rainbow-colorized terrain map, daytime or nighttime infrared maps from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), as well as the Viking Color or MDIM maps. Historic maps are also available, including astronomer Nathaniel Green’s from 1877 and the more famous maps of late 19th- and early 20th-century astronomers Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell and Eugène Michel Antoniadi. The final historic map is one created by the U.S. Air Force in 1962, which was the last map assembled from Earth-based telescopic observations. Assembling the basic visual imagery was certainly the first step, but taking our cue from Google Earth’s ability to display three-dimensional terrain (one of its most powerful features), we also needed to gather the best existing topography for the red planet. The Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter instrument, which flew on board the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, provided a global network of discreet, sparse laser ranging shots, no closer than about 300 m eters along the orbital track, and with a few kilo-

meters of spacing at the equator. This data set provided the basic global topography that we required. The HRSC instrument provided the next level with reasonably dense (tens of meters per pixel) terrain models derived from the photos. Finally, a few select places utilize digital terrain models constructed from the 25 cm per pixel HiRISE images, which produce topography at about 1 m spacing. These small patches provide terrain information most similar to what you’d see yourself if you were standing on the planet’s surface. Although our virtual planet showed how the surface looks (images) and how it’s shaped (topography), we weren’t able to visually provide the rich legacy of other images that blankets the surface of Mars. But in the “Spacecraft Imagery” layer, we designed an option for users to turn on the outlines of places where those images are, each one with an information bubble and a link to the full-resolution image and ancillary information. Although the average user probably wouldn’t use this feature much, this kind of visual catalog is a great resource for scientists trying to locate images from particular spacecraft. Of course, looking down from orbit isn’t the only way that we’ve experienced Mars, so we featured the locations where various governments and space agencies have tried to put down landers


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and rovers—including the best guesses as to the locations of lost spacecraft. For some, we have created 3D models of the spacecraft themselves, in place and to scale, and examples of the pictures and panoramas that these spacecraft took, which you can zoom in on and explore. With these panoramas, users can examine individual rocks, and then zoom all the way out to a planetary

We’re working to update the data sets within Mars in Google Earth more frequently, as the spacecraft in operation are continuously on the move. Towards that end, the THEMIS instrument on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft and the HiRISE instrument on MRO are providing information for

Mars in Google Earth was launched in February 2009, and later that summer—on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing—we released the Moon in Google Earth. perspective to explore and investigate Mars at a variety of scales. But not all the spacecraft that we’ve sent to the surface have stayed in one place. The Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) have long since driven away from their landing spots, and have gone on long trips in their six years of operation. We’ve captured these traverses, and users can follow the rovers’ paths and examine the panoramas that they’ve taken from different locations during their travels.

the “Live from Mars” feature, which visualizes the orbit of spacecraft from the last few weeks from now (whenever now is), and displays the locations where those instruments have taken images. The THEMIS instrument even provides examples of the raw, uncalibrated images that are being taken.


Mars in Google Earth was launched in February 2009, and later that summer—on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing—we released the Moon in Google Earth. While modern instruments haven’t scrutinized the Moon as much as they have Mars, we incorporated a wealth of historical data and detailed information collected from each of the Apollo landings as well as other robotic spacecraft that have visited the Moon. The space agencies of many countries (including China, Japan and India) have recently sent spacecraft to the Moon, and NASA has sent the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) spacecraft to gather more detailed data from our satellite. We hope that the Moon in Google Earth will grow and evolve as these spacecraft capture new views of the Moon.

Although the primary audience for the Moon and Mars in Google Earth is the general public, we’ve added enough information to make this tool useful for scientists and engineers as well

These virtual planets in Google Earth provide an amazing trove of all the great information that we have gathered about these planets, both old and new, in a format that anyone can explore. Those of us funded by NASA are acutely aware that all of the research and exploration that we accomplish is done so via public funds, and we try very hard to make sure that we’re communicating our discoveries with the public. I’m very proud that we’ve created a great mechanism via Google Earth for people to get a good, deep look at what NASA has been up to around the Moon and Mars. Although the primary audience for the Moon and Mars in Google Earth is the general public, we’ve added enough information to make this tool useful for scientists and engineers as well. I can’t overstate how useful it is to be able to communicate via a shared, dynamic, interactive map. As a very visual thinker, having all of the planetary data laid out on a virtual map makes it easier for me to navigate and understand the relationships between features and datasets, and easier to communicate these kinds of spatial relationships to my colleagues. It allows me to get as close as I can to “hiking around” on Mars to do field research. It’s an excellent tool, which can act as a foundation for science, engineering and education, and I look forward to seeing how people will use it in the years to come. w Google and Google Earth are trademarks of Google, Inc.


View of the Apollo 15 landing site near Hadley Rille. This is a zoomed out view to show the three different traverses the astronauts drive in their lunar rover, but each path can be zoomed in on and the icons explored to learn more about the mission.

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THE USE OF COLOR IN INTERSTELLAR MESSAGE DESIGN by Kimberly A. Jameson & Jon Lomberg

Communicating with others...

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onsiderable effort has been devoted to understanding the consciousness of others, the ways human consciousness resembles that of other terrestrial species, and what assumptions about others’ consciousness are sensible. Aspects of consciousness, mental experience, and self-awareness have been deliberated for a range of Earth’s creatures: from the highest forms of mammals–humans, nonhuman primates, cetacean1—to the lowly nematode.2 Some believe that consciousness proper occurs in few species, whereas others believe it is widespread. Animal behaviorist Donald R. Griffin has suggested that the ...belief that mental experiences are a unique attribute of a single species is not only unparsimonious; it is conceited. It seems more likely than not that mental experiences, like many other characters, are widespread, at least among multicellular animals, but differ greatly in nature and complexity.3 At a minimum, we can assume many non-human primate species experience consciousness, and humans will aim to communicate with these others, and seek out appropriate languages—fundamental units, signs or symbols—for communicating our thoughts and ideas with these different species. Nevertheless, despite consciousness in other terrestrial animals, the challenges impeding shared communication are substantial. This is because although humans share environments with other species, our perceptions of environmental sounds, sights, smells and tastes do not always sys-

tematically relate, or even greatly overlap, with those of other species. Thus, although our specific sensory experiences define our reality, there are good reasons for communication gaps with our non-human terrestrial neighbors.

Is anybody out there conscious like us?

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ike seeking to communicate with non-human earthlings, there is also a strong desire to communicate with conscious beings that might reside beyond our planet. Since 1961, astronomers have been conducting a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), scanning the skies for radio messages from intelligences possibly sharing our Milky Way galaxy. The belief is that if—and it is a big if—intelligent extraterrestrial beings (ETI) are out there, they may be transmitting radio beacons to find other civilizations. Intriguing questions concern what features an ETI radio beacon would have, and how we might devise our own messages to be correctly decoded by ETI recipients across vast interstellar distances. In general, because it seems plausible that, if they exist, ETIs might inhabit planets revolving around other star systems, then the universal laws of physics and its mathematics could be something other intelligent beings might share. These universal laws might therefore be an appropriate basis for designing messages between the stars, and information about a star’s electromagnetic spectrum may be a basis for communicating with ETI beings (a point elaborated below). Similar to pursuits of intraterrestrial communications, efforts to communicate with inhabitants of other planets proceed by assuming that (i) an extraterrestrial consciousness exists, (ii) some sets of translation rules can be found to relate human and ETI experiences, and (iii) that the laws of stellar and planetary physics and its mathematics are a solid basis for communication. Based on these assumptions, several kinds of fundamental units and ways of messaging have already been developed for human-ETI


communication. Here we consider one specific approach, and its particular use of features of solar light that humans experience as “color”, that created the most elaborate message artifact yet sent out from Earth, namely the Voyager Interstellar Record (VIR).

Communicating across the cosmos?

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robably because human communication modalities rely heavily on visual and auditory components, SETI researchers have focused on developing ways to send pictures using radio signals that encode visual data in ways that allow ETI to reconstruct any images (e.g., of our planet, terrestrial species or scientific diagrams) we might choose to send.

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Financial and other practical considerations have constrained most interstellar messages to the domain of radio waves, but ETI message artifacts have been attached to some NASA spacecraft leaving the solar system. The most ambitious of these was the VIR which was constructed using a science-based approach to identify features of human “seeing” and “listening” that might be successfully communicated to ETI. The VIR is a copper disk containing music, sounds, speech, and images from Earth.4 Each of the two Voyager spacecraft carries identical copies of this record, whose projected lifetime is a billion years. Both were launched in 1977 and are now far beyond Pluto on an endless cruise between the stars.

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The pictorial portion of the VIR contains 120 images from Earth, and reviewing those images now—32 years after the satellite launch—still poses interesting questions. For example, are pictorial and photographic images even useful and appropriate for designing interstellar communications? As the VIR team suggests, this is a very complicated question and is beyond the scope of the present paper.4 Still, it is probably unreasonable to assume that ETIs possess sense modalities that parallel those of humans— especially considering the diversity of sense-modes found across terrestrial species. Thus, it is unclear whether VIR pictures can be processed and understood by non-human intelligences. Anthropologists know that isolated groups unfamiliar with 2-D representations of 3-D scenes have difficulty understanding them without training and experience. But if we assume that ETIs could understand a picture, would color information add to that understanding? The color of environmental objects seems like something every being—animal, human or ETI—could equally appreciate. Specifically, (1) can any aspect of color serve as the fundamental basis for communication, and what assumptions would this require? And, (2) what aspects of color experience are not appropriate for the task of developing messages intended for ETI? These questions are considered here, largely because the VIR team not only employed pictures in their message, but they also considered it important to transmit color information as humans perceive it.

Figure 1. A color film image of the Grand Tetons (top) with the R, G, B primary separations of the image shown below as three panels. The VIR used the same approach with twenty color images included in the message, with the exception that the three R, G, B, components of each image were sent as grayscale versions of the R, G, B components. Image courtesy of Wikipedia member: Mike1024.


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Lucid in the sky with color?

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Figure 4 shows the VIR version of Fraunhofer lines, in color with absorption lines marked, and the grayscale R, G, B components of the color image. This spectrum was obtained using refraction—that is, using a glass prism similar to that shown in Figure 5. In addition to this spectrum, other triple-imaged photos included the Earth from space, landscapes, plants and animals, humans with varied skin pigmentation, electric lights of cities, and fire. The VIR designers hoped that the color information contained in Figure 4 would communicate information about the substances in the pictures (e.g. the blues of sky and ocean).

Unnumbered (below). 1987 Deutsche Bundespost postage stamp, depicting Fraunhofer lines in the visible spectrum, honoring the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bavarian physicist and optician Joseph von Fraunhofer. Image courtesy of Maiken Naylor, Sci-Philately, University at Buffalo Libraries, http:// ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/asl/exhibits/stamps/.

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The key for a naïve ETI recipient to decode our human experience of these multicolored composite images is to recognize our Sun’s atomic fingerprint based on a transmitted segment of elemental gaps in the Sun’s emission spectrum (e.g., Figure 2). This distinctive pattern of chemical absorption lines from our Sun was considered useful for simultaneously identifying the type of star we orbit and an important portion of it’s spectrum: the range of humanly visible light. Thus, VIR did not include the Sun’s entire absorption spectrum data; rather, to convey information about Earth’s humans, only the absorption line data from our visible spectrum was included. Absorption lines within this range are known as Fraunhofer lines (Figure 3).

Figure 3 (bottom). A more classic representation of absorption lines in the solar spectrum characteristic of the Sun’s G2 star-type between 400 nm and 700 nm (i.e., 4000 to 7000 angstroms). These are known as “Fraunhofer lines” after the German physicist Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787-1826) who made a very careful systematic study of the lines. Fraunhofer determined that the dark lines are absorbed, missing regions of the spectrum Image courtesy of Wikipedia member: Gebruiker:MaureenV.

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The use of color in VIR images was limited to 20 of the 120 images sent. These twenty appeared in the VIR as sequenced triples depicting grayscale portions of each image’s content, separated into component contributions of red, blue and green photographic primaries used by the human visual system to reproduce the original composite image (Figure 1).

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survey of all the color images of the VIR would be a lengthy task, and is detailed elsewhere.5 Briefly, two design objectives guided the use of color during the construction of the VIR message. The aim was to use physical information from the Sun’s spectrum to (1) point out the Sun’s star class, and (2) to define a color code for message construction to be used to exemplify salient attributes of human color experience, and the ways humans perceive (e.g., in sunsets and flowers) and use color (e.g., anatomy diagrams and textile designs).

Figure 2 (opposite page). NASAs modern hi-res representation of spectral lines as dark gaps in the solar spectrum. The image shows 50 vertical slices of wavelength continua, each covering 60 angstroms (in 1 nanometer steps from top to bottom), with shorter wavelengths shown at left in blue, and longer wavelengths at right in red, giving a complete spectrum across the visual range from 4,000 to 7,000 Angstroms. Beyond the left side of the figure the solar spectrum continues into the ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma rays (at 1/10,000 Angstrom), whereas off the right side the solar spectrum continues as infrared, microwaves, and radiowaves (through 100 kilometers). Dark horizontal dashes or gaps show spectral absorption lines. Both the color spectral emissions and the dark spectral absorption lines shown are constant and specific for each element. Approximately 92 naturally-occurring earthly elements and 72 solar elements exist. Fusion generates both heat and light in the sun’s core, and all 72 solar elements each emit unique spectral signatures.. Image adapted from, and courtesy of, N.A.Sharp, NOAO/ NSO/Kitt Peak FTS/AURA/NSF.

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Below we consider some ways to improve the creative color-coding ideas that VIR used. The exercise is also instructive for recognizing just how much our human dependency on color–typically considered an immutable physical attribute—is tied lockstep with our specific human physiology, and to a far greater degree than it is with the very physical attributes of solar radiation that make human color experience possible.

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The trouble with color Colorless light bathes us curiously. Starlight or sunlight, electromagnetic waves carry no intrinsic color; and this fact alone, apart from any uncertainty about the visual processing features of message senders or receivers, makes color a tricky code for use in cross-species communication on Earth, as well as for human-ETI communications. Sir Isaac Newton put it aptly: “For the Rays to speak properly are not coloured. In them there is nothing else than a certain Power and Disposition to stir up a sensation of this or that colour”6 (Figure 6). Newton intimates what vision scientists now completely understand: color perception is highly species dependent. Which is to say that any measurable light source (the Sun, Aldebaran, or a compact florescent light-bulb) has a quantifiable amount of power and a specific characterizable spectral profile, that produce color perceptions that are entirely dependent on the types of sensors used for detecting the rays of light. In other words, observed color is entirely viewer-

dependent. Color does not occur in the wavelengths themselves; it is a product of the organism viewing the wavelength and strictly rooted in its physiology. In fact, all of Earth’s “seeing” species have their own specialized sets of “detectors” that allow them to process environmental electromagnetic radiation (light) in a manner specific to their individual environmental needs and purposes—see endnotes 7 and 8 for examples of non-human color experiences that differ from those of humans. Some creatures register ultraviolet features of light, some infrared, others (e.g., humans) detect ~400 nm to ~700 nm wavelengths. And “seeing” is done in different ways even when largely similar ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum are detected. Moreover, neither cephalopods (e.g., octopodes, cuttlefish, etc.) from our oceans that discriminate polarized light (which humans do not), nor cichlid fish from the Great Lakes in Africa that are sensitive to a range of ultraviolet light (that we do not register), would experience the same color phenomena that humans experience when viewing colors associated with temperatures from, for example, a black-body radiator scale used in astronomical spectroscopy (Figure 7, following page).

Figure 4 (left). The Voyager Interstellar Record (VIR) used the concept of Fraunhofer lines (Figure 3) to convey both (a) the range of solar electromagnetic radiation visible to the human eye, and (b) the signature absorption lines of our G2-class star within that narrow visible range. The top panel shows the VIR color image version of Fraunhofer lines with absorption lines marked by arrows. Below it the grayscale images of the separate R, G, B components of the color image are shown. The continuous color spectrum showing the three absorption lines was produced by refraction, and because, in part, the image was photographed and processed in the 1970’s (when color resolution was not of high definition), the subtle color gradient is not easily apparent. The three separate grayscale images representing the red, green and blue components were included to suggest the primaries one would need to reconstruct the color image as human observers would perceive it. The VIR solar spectra depicted are courtesy of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) at Cornell University, New York


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Figure 5 (right). Sir Isaac Newton in 1666 used a small aperture and a glass prism to collect a narrow beam of sunlight, and separated the beam using refraction into its component parts.[6] Refracted spectra, like the one depicted, produce color scales that are non-linear with respect to wavelength. Image courtesy of Kimberly A. Jameson.

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Figure 6 (below). Newton’s Opticks6 first published in 1704, although the results existed in 1672, and some experiments were done in 1666.

57 Thus, while the physics and mathematics of the black-body radiator only depends on physical temperature, the visible colors on Planck’s locus as it varies along the Kelvin temperature scale will be varying if different (or more, or fewer) visual detectors are used to view colors correlated with temperature. To use “color” as a basis for communication, it is important to appreciate that terrestrial animals would not have our human color experiences—or experience the color gradient seen in Figure 7 (following page). Their perceptions of this physically based temperature scale would simply be different. More generally then, if ETIs visually process electromagnetic radiation like many birds, reptiles or insects, they would not be expected to have a correlated color temperature scale analogous to what humans experience. Indeed, a worst-case scenario could be that no range of electromagnetic radiation sensitivities that any terrestrial species (including humans) experiences coincides with the range(s) of spectra that are “visible” to an ETI recipient. Does this invalidate the use of the Sun’s spectrum as a basis for ETI communication? In some ways, yes, it definitely does. In other ways, however, maybe not, if one proceeds carefully (as elaborated below). Sending our Sun’s spectrum... which one? Aside from the abovementioned difficulties inherent in communicating “color” as a physically-based experience, there is the question of which solar spectrum to use. This difficulty has two components: (i) where and when the solar spectrum is sampled, and (ii) the production method used to produce the continuous spectrum. Where and when to sample. Two particular things affect spectral measurements: First, if solar data is measured in a standardized identical way from (a) the surface


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Figure 7 (left). The classic color gradient of a heated black-body radiator on the Kelvin temperature scale. Color temperature is based on the principle that an object at some fixed temperature, like an oven, is observed to glow. At 1000 Kelvin, an oven looks red; at 6000 Kelvin, it looks white. This temperature gradient forms a line in color space know as Planck’s locus. Planck’s theory suggests that colors of a black-body radiator only depend on such temperatures, implying that light at different temperatures has a different distribution of energy among the different wavelengths. In general, most human observers will experience the color gradient shown here. However, some human observers with color vision anomalies that give rise to color confusions among yellowish and bluish colors (i.e., tritanopic confusions) will perceive a different gradient of appearances between about 3000K and 10000K. Others with deficiencies involving reddish-yellowish-greenish confusions (i.e., protanopic and deuteranopic confusions) may perceive a slightly different color gradient between 1000K to 5000K. And, in general, any observer with highly yellowed optical lenses (due to, for example, a long history of exposure to tobacco smoke) may experience a slightly different color gradient than the one shown in the 7000K to 10000K portion of the scale. Moreover, organisms possessing different visual processing systems would each have their own, different, color appearance scales correlated with color temperature; and while to be sure they would be based on Planck’s law of black-body radiation, their own gradients of color appearance within the scale would differ from the one shown here. Image courtesy of Wikipedia member: Eyrian . Figure 8 (below). Schematic depiction of the electromagnetic radiation filtering achieved by the Earth’s atmosphere. Note that the portions of the Sun’s spectrum that are filtered (i.e., the tan areas shown in the bottom panel) are a substantial part of our Sun’s atomic fingerprint, but are absent from any spectral measurements made at the Earth’s surface. The solar spectrum measured in deep space, unfiltered by the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere and other filters would appear very different. This is important because the radiation emitted by the Sun involves a wide range covering the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio wavelengths to micro wavelengths. Image courtesy of NASA.

of Earth, (b) outside the Earth’s Atmosphere, or (c) outside the Earth’s magnetosphere, then three very different measures are obtained. The reasons for this include that these all filter the Sun’s spectrum to varying degrees. The VIR electromagnetic spectrum was measured at the Earth’s surface, filtered by Earth’s atmosphere. This has the advantage of conveying a geocentric perspective of the solar spectrum, but it is very unrepresentative of what one would detect if measuring from across distant space (Figure 8). Second, filtering features of Earth’s atmosphere are in flux, and have changed significantly since life arose on the planet. The Sun’s spectrum at Earth’s surface today differs considerably from what an ETI astronomer might have observed during the Cretaceous period—say 145 million years ago. The point is, solar spectra samples are also time-dependent. This might be a good feature (i.e., it could help specify when a transmission was sent) or it might be a bad feature (i.e., it makes recognizing our Sun’s star class difficult when information is incomplete regarding conditions under which the measurements were taken). In either case it is inherent in any solar spectrum measures, and therefore consideration should be given to whether additional information is needed to accurately communicate the data’s origins, whether filtered or not. Note that the VIR included a diagram showing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere (Figure 9, facing page). Refracted versus diffracted spectra. Typically, astronomical spectroscopy uses high-dispersion diffraction gratings to observe spectra at very high spectral resolutions on a scale that is linear with respect to wavelength. Producing a continuous solar spectrum with diffraction differs from that produced using refraction via a glass prism (Figure 5). Refraction produces spectra that are not linear with respect to wavelength. VIR used a spectrum formed using refraction; but what should we assume ETI would use? This is a non-trivial question because if the scale is compressed in some regions of the spectrum sent, then accurate recognition of our Sun’s spectral lines might not be achieved by the message recipients. There are an uncountable


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Figure 9. Voyager Record #13 of 120, depicting an orbital view of Earth. This was one of the twenty images sent in color, in hopes that the colors of land, cloud, and water would facilitate understanding about the chemical composition of each. The symbols identify gases and their relative proportions in Earth’s atmosphere. (These symbols were defined by a diagrammatic dictionary earlier in the VIR sequence.) Diagram by Jon Lomberg.

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number of stars in space—estimated at 1011 stars multiplied by 1011 galaxies—and Figure10 (following page)gives but a hint of their class diversity and physical properties. The possibility exists that an undersampled rendering of non-linear absorption lines may more closely resemble a segment of spectral lines found in some sampled section of another star-class. Thus, a section of transmitted spectra might be interpreted as originating from somewhere very different than from a G2 class star such as our Sun.

Designing a better ETI communiqué

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a message artifact might be the way to accomplished this. Sending the full solar spectrum is also consistent with NASA’s advice on Earthly astronomical spectroscopy: It is essential to study the entire spectrum rather than just limited regions of it. Relying on the radiation that reaches Earth’s surface is like listening to a piano recital with only a few of the piano’s keys working.9

he question is whether in three decades since the Voyager launch, we can imagine ways to improve upon the Voyager Interstellar Record, and find color processing universals that can be used as a basis for human-ETI communication. Above we merely noted some assumptions inherent in sending pictures, and avoided elaborating further. But all VIR pictorial images require an ETI ability to interpret 2-D representations of 3-D scenes, and graphic or numeric representations. We feel it’s best to avoid such assumptions, because these capacities may not be universal.

And if we don’t send the entire spectrum, then we should provide more information about the portion we do send—how it was filtered, why this portion is important, and so on (a task made easier by assuming that ETIs actually reside on planets with atmospheres and stars).

One suggestion is to transmit the full data of the Sun’s spectrum. Although such content may be less interesting to us, the senders, it requires fewer assumptions about the recipients. Furthermore, if sent from an ETI perspective—the unfiltered solar spectrum data as measured from deep space–the chances of ETI correctly decoding our Sun’s unique signature would be optimized. The repetitive, linear-sequenced configuration of a broadcast beacon rather than

(1) Communicate the sun’s unfiltered spectrum as measured from deep space.

Here we suggest certain features to consider when constructing interstellar messages:

(2) Communicate the sun’s spectrum as it is diversely and dynamically filtered by the Earth’s atmosphere. (3) Communicate the most stable (over time and


Figure 10. This Hertzsprung-Russell diagram plots luminosity (absolute magnitude) against the color of the stars ranging from the high-temperature blue-white stars on the left side of the diagram to the low temperature red stars on the right side. Stars are classified into spectral types based on the temperature of a star’s atmosphere. These are typically listed from hottest to coldest by classes O, B, A, F, G, K and M. The spectral classes O through M are subdivided by Arabic numerals (0 – 9). For example, “A0” denotes the hottest stars in the “A” class and “A9” denotes the coolest ones. The Sun is classified as “G2”. The central band of stars that runs from the upper left corner to the lower right of the plot is called the main sequence. This figure shows about 60 random stars illustrating that there are many stars in each group, with 20 well-known stars also shown in their proper place. It illustrates the correct ratio of large stars to small, blue stars to red. The Sun is circled and central to the yellow grouping of G2 type stars. Only an infinitesimally small fraction of existing stars is depicted. Diagram by Jon Lomberg.

atmospheric flux) gaps in the spectrum, or those that uniquely distinguish our sun from other stars.

Endnotes

(4) Do not attempt to communicate idiosyncratic color appearance information (unless other subjective perceptions or data are also intended) or use color appearance as a basis for a code.

2.

1.

Griffin, D.R., “Prospects for a cognitive ethology,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 4: 527-538 (1978). Margulis, L. and Sagan, D., What is life? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995).

3.

Griffin, D.R., The Question of Animal Awareness: Evolutionary Continuity of Mental Experience (2nd edition), (New York: Rockefeller University

And finally,

Press, 1981). 4.

(5) Strive for redundancy in the content. If sending the solar spectrum, send a spectrum as measured from space to convey star-level information; send spectra filtered by atmosphere to convey planet-level information; and send portions of spectra used by humans to convey species-level information. These levels of transmitted spectra should be logically organized as three levels of information, while still recognizable as addressing our star’s emission spectrum.

Sagan, C., Drake, F.D., Druyan, A., Ferris, T., Lomberg, J. and Salzman-Sagan, L., Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record, (New York: Random House, 1978) 76-78.

5.

Lomberg, J., “Pictures of Earth,” Chapter 3 in Sagan, C., Drake, F.D., Druyan, A., Ferris, T., Lomberg, J. and Salzman-Sagan, L., Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record, (New York: Random House, 1978) 71-121.

6.

Newton, I., Sir, Opticks: Or a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections, and colours of light, (London, 1704) 124-125.

Summary

7.

C

8.

olor is an unreliable carrier of information for ETI messaging, and color experience—a chief delight of human sensory processing—is as idiosyncratic as gustatory preferences. Other biological intelligences have different sensory worlds. Which aspects of these sensory worlds overlap is one of the great mysteries of SETI. These caveats notwithstanding, careful use of universal features of our Sun’s spectrum may serve to signal distant ETI astronomers that some lonely carbon-based life forms reside near a certain kind of star and imagine they are not entirely alone in space. w

Jameson, K.A. “Human potential for tetrachromacy,” Glimpse: the art + science of seeing: 2.3: 82-91 (2009). Bielmeier, C. M. “Fluorescence in the garden,” Glimpse: the art + science of seeing: 2.3: 10-14 (2009).

9.

NASA teaching source available at http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/SEH/ Space_Astronomy_Teacher_Guide_Part_2.pdf, p. 9.

This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under award number 07724228 from the Methodology, Measurement, and Statistics (MMS) Program of the Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.


by Jason W. Barnes

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t seems incredible now, but at the dawn of the Space Age, equipping interplanetary spacecraft with cameras was not a foregone conclusion.

NASA planned no cameras for its first Venus mission, Mariner 2 in 1962, because astronomers inferred from images collected by Earth-based

telescopes that a camera wouldn’t see anything through the planet’s thick clouds. Carl Sagan, a planetary scientist perhaps best known for co-writing the PBS television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage in the early 1980s, lobbied to have a camera installed despite this anticipated futility. The camera’s purpose, Sagan mused, would not be to image the clouds that we knew were there, but rather to be on the lookout for the “unexpected.” Carl Sagan lost the Mariner 2 battle. Instruments were sent to test previously existing hypotheses instead. But his approach of using cameras to discover new phenomena and processes—in essence, to look for the questions that we did not know enough to ask—won out in the long run. Over the past fifty years, imaging has developed into a critical tool for planetary exploration. These pictures of planets, asteroids and moons are more accessible and more easily interpreted scientifically than other datasets, in part because they piggyback on the human brain’s built-in hardware for assimilating information from images.

Figure 1. A true-color image of Titan, like what human eyes would see. Scattering off of atmospheric smog particles smears out all light from the surface, leaving Titan looking like a featureless grapefruit. This image is from Cassini’s Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS), but Voyager 1’s cameras from 1980 showed much the same picture. All images courtesy of the author.


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Figure 2. This color scheme emphasizes Titan’s atmospheric features. In this view from the VIMS instrument on Cassini’s T34 fly-by on July 19, 2007, surface features look green. The pinkish color near the limb shows scattering off of the smoggy haze particles. The bright bluish-white patches near the south pole are methane storm clouds.


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Figure 3. This is the same VIMS image cube from Figure 2, but it uses images from different wavelengths to bring out the surface instead of the atmosphere. The dark brown areas near the center show where the sand dunes are located; the composition of the brighter areas has not yet been definitively identified. Areas that look bluer have more water ice.


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Figure 4. Global map of Titan at near-infrared wavelengths. This is a simple cylindrical projection with 90 degrees north (the north pole) at the top, 90 degrees south (the south pole) at the bottom, and the equator running from left-to-right through the middle of the image. The center of the image corresponds to 0 degrees longitude on Titan (the point that always points toward Saturn, because Titan is tidally locked just like our moon), while the edges are 180 degrees longitude. Figure 5. This 1.4 kilometer-per-pixel VIMS view from the T4 Cassini fly-by on March 31, 2005 shows Titan’s sand dunes as long, linear features within the dark brown areas.

Figure 6. In this VIMS view from the T9 fly-by on December 26, 2005 you can see dark blue linear markings within the bright green terrain that correspond to dry river channels.

The two Voyager spacecraft (Voyager 1 and Voyager 2) that were launched to the outer planets in 1977 were equipped with now-obsolete Vidicon cameras. These instruments were pre-CCD (charge coupled device) cameras with old photomultiplier detectors. They acquired color from taking multiple images with differently colored filters out in front of the main aperture. These cameras made the initial reconnaissance of the four giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) and their more than fifty moons. Of the two spacecraft, Voyager 2 flew by Jupiter and Saturn, using the planets’ gravity to fling itself on to Uranus and Neptune as well. Voyager 1 could have done the same tour. Instead, it was tasked with the only c l o s e - u p exploration of a single worldSaturn’s moon, Titan. Almost as big as the planet Mercury, Titan is the only moon in the solar system with a thick atmosphere. And it was this blanket of air that drew the attention of the Voyager scientists.

Voyager 1’s exploratory efforts. In a development similar to that on Venus back in 1962, the spacecraft’s 1980 close-up, high-resolution pictures showed Titan to be a nearly featureless, orange billiard ball (Figure 1). Titan looks smooth in these images because they show only the atmospheric haze that obscures its surface, and not the surface itself. The haze is made up of complex organic molecules—consisting of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen—created by the Sun’s ultraviolet light in Titan’s cold, methanerich atmosphere. The result is not unlike the smog that infests Mexico City and the Los Angeles basin. Like L.A.’s smog, Titan’s haze inhibits visibility by blocking photons that are smaller in wavelength to the haze particles themselves. Because photons are quantum mechanically both particles and waves at the same time, when the wavelength of light is longer than the particle diameter, the waves are able to pass through the particle without being deflected at all. The shorter wavelengths, however, encounter particles larger than themselves and are either absorbed or deflected in a different direction. The average diameter of a particle in Titan’s haze is around 1 micron—one millionth of a meter, or fifty times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Hence, visible-light wavelengths of around 0.5 microns (like Voyager 1 used) are deflected off of the ubiquitous haze particles instead of passing through and directly illuminating the surface. Instead of allowing us to view Titan’s surface directly, photons

photons bounce around endlessly as if in a giant... pinball machine

Ironically, the atmosphere also frustrated


bounce around endlessly as if in a giant three-dimensional pinball machine. Information about the surface properties gets lost in the hubbub.

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The Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) is a conventional visible-light camera with a 1024x1024 pixel CCD array for its detector (like the one used in digital cameras that you can buy today). ISS uses a narrow-band color filter at 0.938 microns wavelength that rejects other

We can only see the surface at wavelengths that methane does not absorb. These wavelengths are called “atmospheric windows.” wavelengths of light in order to penetrate the haze. While the haze is partially invisible at this wavelength, some deflection off of atmospheric haze particles smears the resulting pictures. The best spatial resolution on the surface is no better than one kilometer, and the contrast is only a few percent. Cassini’s other near-infrared instrument is the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS). VIMS is not a normal camera. Instead, VIMS acquires spectra from 0.3-5.2 microns wavelength of a single spot at a time. Then it uses a programmable mirror to focus on different spots on the surface, building a 64x64 image over the course of a few minutes. The resulting data cube looks

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Color information is the real power that we get from spectral mapping. Although the haze interference diminishes as we view Titan at longer and longer wavelengths, the atmospheric gases themselves block the surface as well. In particular, gaseous methane, present in Titan’s atmosphere at the 5 percent level, absorbs light at most near-

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In designing a follow-up mission, named Cassini, after the Italian astronomer who discovered Titan in 1655, spacecraft engineers and planetary scientists sought a mechanism to see through the haze and glimpse the enigmatic moon’s elusive surface. The best global and regional views for this mission, which was launched in the mid-1980s and is ongoing today, would come from cameras that see at near-infrared wavelengths, since photons with wavelengths larger than the size of Titan’s haze particles pass right through them. Hence, the way to see through Titan’s haze is similar to the way that a photographer on Earth might get a clear view of distant mountains by using a near-infrared filter. Cassini has two different instruments that use this technique.

like 352 different images, each corresponding to a different wavelength between 0.3 and 5.2 microns. Earth observers call this type of imaging data “hyperspectral,” but planetary scientists call it “spectral mapping.”

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infrared wavelengths. We can only see the surface at wavelengths that methane does not absorb. These wavelengths are called “atmospheric windows.” Creative use of the windows can highlight aspects of the atmosphere in a way that helps to delineate its various attributes (Figure 2). Looking outside the windows yields only haze (red/pink); looking within the windows shows mostly surface (green); and then, looking at the edges of a window, you can see clouds that are above the surface (blue/white). These clouds are giant convective thunderstorms, like those on Earth. Instead of consisting of water though, the clouds are made out of liquid m et h a n e . The temperature in Titan’s lower atmosphere is near the triple point of methane, similar to the way that water is near its


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reflectivity of a surface—hence coal has a very low albedo, while freshly fallen snow has a very high albedo. The red channel, at 5 microns, has the least atmospheric scattering from haze, and shows the best contrast to 2 microns, revealing compositional variations across the surface, only some of which we understand. The blue channel is assigned to 1.3 microns, where areas that are

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richer in water ice are brighter. Because Titan is so cold, the light we see is always reflected sunlight, and not thermal emission.

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Figure 7. The bright and unusual spectrum of this area, along with its shape, has lead Titan scientists to think that it might be a cryovolcano. Volcanoes on Earth are places where liquid rock bubbles up from the interior to cover the surface. Since it is so cold on Titan that water behaves like rock, when liquid water is forced up and out onto the surface there we call it a cryovolcano.

Ten atmospheric windows... can be combined in many different ways, each of which tells a different story about Titan’s composition and history

triple point on Earth and can be present in solid (ice), liquid and gaseous (vapor) form. Methane therefore plays a similar role on Titan that water does on Earth- it evaporates into the air, forms clouds and rains on the surface. The effects of methane make Titan the place in the solar system that looks most like Earth. By looking in different windows, all from the same VIMS observation, we can build up a color image of Titan’s surface. This is not true color, of course. True-color is defined as what your eyes would naturally see. Your eyes cannot see near-infrared— and remember that in the visible, all you would see would be haze. But the resulting colors are real, if invisible to the human eye, and they help to tell us about Titan’s surface properties. There are ten atmospheric windows total due to the specifics of how the methane molecule absorbs light, and they can be combined in many different ways, each of which tells a different story about Titan’s composition and history. Figure 3 shows a particularly useful color combination. The green channel, at 2 microns, contains the cleanest view of Titan’s surface albedo features. Albedo is what planetary scientists call the

As you can see from Figure 3 and from the map in Figure 4, Titan’s surface as revealed by this color scheme changes markedly with latitude. Near Titan’s equator, dark and bright areas alternate. On Earth, our areas near the equator are hot, wet tropical rainforests. But on Titan, most of the dark areas, spectral units that Titan scientists call “dark brown,” correspond to huge fields of sand dunes (Figure 5). Though there are methane rainstorms and clouds on Titan- it evidently must not rain much in these equatorial deserts! Our best resolution imaging of the dunes, taken when Cassini was closest to Titan in the course of its mission, showed that they are around 70 meters high with 2 kilometers between dune crests. The spectrum of the dunes indicates that they are made of organic compounds, and not water ice like most of Titan’s crust. A mental analog for these might be mountains of coffee grounds almost as tall as a football field is wide. The areas between dunes are free of sand; hence, the dunes are probably still actively moving sand around today. In other near-equatorial areas, we see long, sinuous, dark albedo markings that designate the location of channels (Figure 6). Liquid methane must have carved these, as they show branching patterns just like rivers and streams on the Earth. The channels show that, like Earth, but like no other planet that we know, erosion on Titan is dominated by rainfall runoff. The geology of Titan has some fundamental


opportunity for many new discoveries when we look into unexplored territory. Several exciting follow-ons have been proposed for when Cassini’s remarkable mission ends. The next Titan mission may be an orbiter capable of global 25-meter resolution imaging, or a lander to sploosh

Because Titan is so cold, the light we see is always reflected sunlight, and not thermal emission.

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At Titan’s north and south poles, Cassini found one of the most exciting discoveries in the space program’s history- lakes of liquid methane. Liquid water is ubiquitous on Earth, but no liquid had been seen anywhere else before. Figure 8 shows a combined VIMS and ISS view of the lake called Ontario Lacus near Titan’s south pole. The lake is around the same size as Lake Ontario of North America’s Great Lakes on Earth. A mixture of liquid ethane and methane fills the lake. Surrounding the lake are two rings: the inner dark and the outer bright. They seem to be remnants from when the lake level was higher in the past. The inner ring looks like mudflats that are inundated seasonally. Titan’s seasons are about as strong as those of Earth since its axis tilt is similar, but the seasons there last twenty-eight years instead of one here on Earth. The outer ring may be evaporite deposits, like salt flats on Earth, from higher

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Titan, then, would be interior heat melting crustal ice and spewing out water. We call this “cryovolcanism.” The near-infrared imagers on Cassini have shown tantalizing evidence of possible cryovolcanism in a few places on Titan (Figure 7). The shape of the albedo patterns shows finger-like structures that resemble terrestrial lava flows. These still need further study, but if proven genuine, would show that Titan’s interior remains active today.

The Cassini mission will continue until the end of this Titan season in 2017. Near-infrared imaging provides an

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lakestands in the geologic past. It is clear that the methane cycle on Titan is active and dynamic, and will be of great interest for future studies. volume 2.4

differences from a rocky planet like Earth, though. Instead of Earth’s silicate rock crust, the crust of Titan is made out of water ice. On Earth, heat from the planet’s interior melts rock, which is then extruded onto the surface and spewed out of volcanoes. The equivalent of lava spewing forth on

into one of the northern lakes, or a propeller-driven airplane to take licenseplate scale pictures of the surface. With any luck, what we find will continue to exemplify the kind of flexible science that an imaging system can do. With the detailed information gleaned from Cassini’s imaging exploration in particular, most people would now agree that Carl Sagan was right all along. w

Figure 8. Here is a closeup view of a liquid methane- and ethane-filled lake named Ontario Lacus near Titan’s south pole. The background black-andwhite view is from ISS; the color view in the southeast corner is from VIMS. This view starts to show shoreline features that may be similar to mudflats and salty playas on Earth.


RetroSpect: 1880-1911

Glimpse  

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by Carolyn Arcabascio

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hen Williamina Paton Stevens was born in 1857, a married woman could claim no right to property or her well-earned wages. In

1877 when Miss Stevens became Mrs. James Fleming, a man in her native Scotland could legally beat his wife. Two years later, while the battle for women’s suffrage in the UK and abroad was still far from won, the Flemings immigrated to the United States where James would soon abandon a pregnant Williamina. And by the time of her death in 1911, nearly half a century before America’s feminist movement, Williamina Fleming would be internationally renowned for her invaluable, groundbreaking and enduring contributions to the field of astronomy.

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As a young, single mother living in Boston before the turn of the 20th century, Fleming managed to secure a job as a maid in the stately home of Professor Edward Charles Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory and professor of astronomy at the university. Frustrated with the incompetence of his staff at the observatory, Professor Pickering huffily proclaimed that his maid could do a better job. And (presumably) to the shock of Pickering’s staff, Williamina Fleming hung up the feather duster and assumed her new position. As it would turn out, this professional shift from housekeeper to observatory clerk is one that rather suited Fleming. Her daily responsibilities of conducting calculations of astronomical data soon grew as she developed a revolutionary method for categorizing stars by their spectra, or the patterns of their refracted light. Her classifications of many thousands of stars using what came to be called the “Pickering-Fleming System” were published in the Draper Catalogue of Stellar Spectra, which is still regarded today as an important resource in the field. Fleming eventually began to recruit dozens of “women computers” to work at the observatory, many of whom would also find their names featured prominently in astronomy textbooks. In the years that Fleming spent poring over photographs of the cosmos, she discovered 310 variable stars (stars observed to change in brightness), 10 novae (variable stars that experience a cataclysmic eruption), and 59 nebulae (Horsehead among them). One year before her death in Boston of pneumonia, she discovered the existence of stars that were very hot and dense, and appeared white in color. “White dwarf,” a term now known by even the most casual of stargazers, is how Fleming first coined the unusual finding in her journal. And while it’s one of the many regrets of history that Williamina Fleming never laid eyes on a ballot box, it will forever be astronomy’s fortune that she turned her eyes to the stars. w


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By the time of her death in 1911 Williamina Fleming would be internationally recognized for her enduring contributions to the field of astronomy

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(Above). Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming (1857-1911), photographic portrait, ca. 1890. (Below). Observatory computer room and staff, 1891. Williamina Fleming standing middle rear, Edward Pickering standing far left. The women depicted in this photograph analyzed stellar photographs and computed data at the Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts. From the Women Working digital collection, Open Collections Program, Harvard University Library (http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww). Courtesy of Harvard University Archives [Call Numbers: HUP Fleming, Williamina (1) and HUV 1210 (9-4) img Box 0].


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RetroSpect: 1757

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Copperplate illustration from “A Description of the Aerial Telescope, as improved by M. De la Hire” in Universal Magazine of Knowledge & Pleasure. October 1, 1757 p152.002. In the AAS Historical Periodicals Collection, Series I (compilation © 2009 by the American Antiquarian Society). Printed with permission from the American Antiquarian Society and EBSCO Publishing: http://www.ebscohost. com/thisTopic.php?marketID=1&topicID=1173


SEEING THE UNIVERSE

THROUGH A STRAW

The Hubble Space Telescope by Christie Marie Bielmeier

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n April 24, 1990, inside the bay of the shuttle Discovery, a subwaycar-sized Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was carried into space and

finally placed in orbit. After 20 years of funding delays, astronauts were able to maneuver the large vehicle in the zero-gravity environment and position it 375 miles above the earth. While many man-made satellites look back at our home planet, Hubble instead faces the universe and continues to capture images that alter and inform our perception of the cosmos.


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“HUBBLE IS A TIME MACHINE”

Using the Hubble “is like looking at the universe through a straw,” says Frank Cepollina, project manager for the Hubble Satellite Servicing Project. Scientists search for stars and galaxies through small pinpoint areas. “In the last eighteen years,” Cepollina reflects, “we’ve probably only observed no more than 4 percent of the entire celestial sphere we call ‘space’ because we’re looking at little spots.” But although the Hubble is designed to focus only on small “spots” at a time, the telescope’s ability to record and compare the separation rates of light across galaxies has led to two astonishing discoveries: that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, and that it is re-accelerating. Before the year 2000, astronomers believed that galaxies were moving farther and farther away from the event of the Big Bang at a fixed rate, but were slowing down gradually over time. Cepollina describes Hubble as a “time machine.” Analyzing and comparing various “time shots” of galaxies reveals that 7.5 billion years ago, the acceleration rate of the universe increased. What’s more, according to Cepollina, “No one knows where the force to do that has come from.” Although Hubble has introduced this new astronomical puzzle, it has also solved many others. In the past two decades, the Hubble has made major discoveries that have changed the way we see the stars—and the spaces between them. It all comes down to the telescope’s remarkable photos. The images show a mix of colorful, swirling gasses and brilliant points of light, enhanced for the human eye, which can see only a narrow range


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(Above Left). A violent and chaotic-looking mass of gas and dust is seen in this Hubble Space Telescope image of a nearby supernova remnant. Denoted N 63A, the object is the remains of a massive star that exploded, spewing its gaseous layers out into an already turbulent region. The Hubble image of N 63A is a color representation of data taken in 1997 and 2000 with Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. Color filters were used to sample light emitted by sulfur (shown in red), oxygen (shown in blue), and hydrogen (shown in green). Image by Y.-H. Chu and R. M. Williams (UIUC). Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/ AURA). (Above Right). In this detailed view from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the so-called Cat’s Eye Nebula, formally cataloged NGC 6543, was one of the first planetary nebulae to be discovered. It is one of the most complex such nebulae seen in space. A planetary nebula forms when Sun-like stars gently eject their outer gaseous layers that form bright nebulae with amazing and confounding shapes. Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Acknowledgements: R. Corradi (Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, Spain) and Z. Tsvetanov. (Right). Diagram of the Hubble Space Telescope. Image courtesy of NASA.


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“true energy and true light, unobscured by... earth’s atmosphere”


of light waves. All matter in the universe emits energy across an entire spectrum of wavelengths, which is recorded and translated into the images graphically by assigning colors to invisible frequencies of light. As Cepollina explains, the result that we see is “true energy and true light, unobscured by the earth’s atmosphere.”

In addition to imaging light’s inability to escape a black hole’s gravity, thanks to Hubble, scientists have also been able to confirm Albert Einstein’s theory of lensing. Einstein proposed that the gravitational field of any massive object would act as a lens and bend light that passes by. As the telescope’s images show, this is indeed the case.

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NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes teamed up to expose the chaos that baby stars are creating 1,500 light years away in a cosmic cloud called the Orion nebula. This striking composite indicates that four monstrously massive stars, collectively called the “Trapezium,” at the center of the cloud may be the main culprits in the Orion constellation, a familiar sight in the fall and winter night sky in the northern hemisphere. Their community can be identified as the yellow smudge near the center of the image. Swirls of green in Hubble’s ultraviolet and visible-light view reveal hydrogen and sulfur gas that have been heated and ionized by intense ultraviolet radiation from the Trapezium’s stars. Meanwhile, Spitzer’s infrared view exposes carbon-rich molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the cloud. These organic molecules have been illuminated by the Trapezium’s stars, and are shown in the composite as wisps of red and orange. On Earth, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found on burnt toast and in automobile exhaust. Stellar winds from clusters of newborn stars scattered throughout the cloud etched all of the well-defined ridges and cavities in Orion. The large cavity near the right of the image was most likely carved by winds from the Trapezium’s stars. Located 1,500 light-years away from Earth, the Orion nebula is the brightest spot in the sword of the Orion, or the “Hunter” constellation. The cosmic cloud is also our closest massive star-formation factory, and astronomers believe it contains more than 1,000 young stars. Image and description courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI

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The HST was the first telescope powerful enough to see the effects of a black hole’s gravitational pull. Before the telescope was in operation, the workings of these phenomena were theoretical and often appeared in the pages of science fiction. “Black holes were thought to be here and there in the universe,” says Cepollina, “but astronomers now believe there is a black hole present in almost every galaxy—perhaps at the center of each.”

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These remarkable photos have shown us the lifecycles of stars and the brilliance of supernovae like no other space or ground-based telescope. While the Hubble did not catch the initial explosion of the most recently recorded supernova SN 1987A, it is monitoring the aftermath. By looking at the light emitted from SN 1987A, scientists can better understand how star death is related to rebirth, as well as the relationship between extinguished stars and black holes.

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(This Page). The Bullet Cluster, located about 3.8 billion light years from Earth. This cluster was formed after the violent collision of two large clusters of galaxies. It has become a common subject of astrophysical research, including studies of the properties of dark matter and the dynamics of million-degree gas. Image courtesy of NASA (X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/M. Markevitch et al. Optical: NASA/STScI; Magellan/U.Arizona/D.Clowe et al.) (Above Right). The Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Image courtesy of NASA/STSci.


HUBBLE Timeline

1923 Rocket scientist Hermann Oberth proposes the idea for an orbiting telescope

1985 HST is ready for launch

1993 Space shuttle Endeavour launches Servicing Mission 1 1994 HST images Orion nebula, showing evidence of the formation of planets around stars 1995 HST images Eagle nebula and shows how stars are born 1997 Discovery launches Servicing Mission 2 1998 Discovery launches Hubble Test and Checkout 1999 Discovery launches Servicing Mission 3a 2002 Space Shuttle Columbia launches Servicing Mission 3b 2003-2004 HST develops images of Ultra Deep Fields 2005 NASA proposes additional servicing missions to extend HST’s longevity 2009 Space Shuttle Atlantis launches Servicing Mission 4 2014 HST’s mission will end ca. 2032 HST will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere ...

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1990 Space shuttle Discovery carries HST into space and it is set in orbit

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1977 US Congress approves funding for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

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1918 Edwin Hubble deduces that the Universe is expanding

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But Hubble also investigates the matter between these observable objects and twinkling stars. Before and during Hubble’s existence, ground-based observatories have been cataloguing large dark areas in space where little or no observable light is emitted. With Hubble’s help, they’re now seeing the real picture. Hubble selects and points to these “ultra deep fields” with a precision unmatched by any other instrument, focuses on them for up to twenty days at a time, and slowly images light from galaxies so old that the telescope may collect as little as one photon an hour. But with persistence, an entire scene is developed. “Voila!” exclaims Cepollina. “All of a sudden you get this tremendous field of stars and galaxies that you’ve never seen before.” He goes on to explain that when scientists analyze these galaxies, they “find they have all kinds of weird shapes, and some are more red, more blue or violet because of the different frequencies of light being emitted.”

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Unlike ultra deep fields that appear vacant but upon investigation are rich with galaxies of stars, between 80 and 90 percent of the universe appears, perplexingly, entirely devoid of matter. Using equations that relate mass to energy, scientists have estimated the total mass of the entire universe and then subtracted the mass of all the known objects. They conclude that we can only account for about 10 percent of the mass of the universe. The space where the matter is missing is called “dark matter.”

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To Cepollina the question, “Where has all the matter gone?” is the most important one raised by Hubble in all its years of operation. The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), an instrument that has been installed on HST, has been tasked with answering this very question. COS investigates the ‘cosmic web’ which Cepollina describes is “like a spider web we can’t see

made up of plasma, magnetic fields, and forces, particles and who knows what else.” Hubble’s instrument has been tasked with determining whether there is indeed a connecting web that constitutes dark matter, the “missing” part of our Universe.

(Right). A stellar jet in the Carina Nebula, imaged by Hubble’s WFC3/UVIS detector. Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team.

As for the future of our orbiting time machine, the latest servicing mission will allow Hubble to function through 2014. No following-on missions have been scheduled. Over time, the energy of the vehicle will be depleted and thrusters that keep the telescope in geo-synchronous orbit will fail. Atmospheric drag will slow the un-powered telescope, pulling it down to the earth’s atmosphere—where it will ultimately burn up around 2032. Hubble’s legacy will always be its breathtaking, textbook-changing images. With new technologies and the infrared-optimized James Webb Space Telescope in development, Cepollina predicts that “we haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until this these new instruments go into operation and I’ll bet you we’ll be rewriting the textbooks all over again.” w


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$25 Million A Ride A real view of space tourism by C. J. Wallington

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efore you read this, you should know that space tourism, as it currently

exists, isn’t as visually thrilling as you see it on television. (Sorry about that!) Exciting? Oh my, yes! Visually stimulating? Maybe not—unless you think that living inside a Winnebago crowded with equipment is a visual thrill. I think of visual excitement as something aesthetically pleasing. Something that is stimulating, like a train wreck, can be visually exciting, but I don’t think of it as pleasing or something I would like to see over and over again. Although space tourism can be visually exciting in short bursts, I seldom think of it as “pleasing.” One of the problems with the visual side of space tourism is that we’ve been preconditioned and oversold. The thought of space tourism often brings Star Wars and Star Trek to mind. Remember the first time you saw the stars blur as the Millennium Falcon went into hyperdrive? (Star Trek copied that later—it’s almost a visual cliché now.) And think of the sky-full of stars and planets that NASA has brought us: the rings of Jupiter, swirling and colliding galaxies. Real space tourism isn’t like that. At least not now, and probably not in the next fifty years. Maybe never. But don’t let that turn you off. Space tourism is as exciting an adventure as you could ever have. Rarely boring (imagine floating everywhere—no real up or down), but on the visual side, not up to the hype. I

Image courtesy of NASA.


hope this article brings you a more realistic view of what you might see (as opposed to experience) as a space tourist. Let’s start with some parameters to “space tourism.”

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First, space. Space is commonly defined as anything over 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) from the earth’s surface.

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Next, tourism. For our purposes, that means 1) the passenger pays for the trip, and 2) the trip is not for work— which excludes astronauts and journalists as participants. (True, there was a Japanese journalist who went to the Mir space station and was sick almost the whole time. What fun!) There are currently seven space tourists who have, on their own nickel, ridden up to the International Space Station (ISS) on a Russian Soyuz transport vehicle, stayed about a week, and returned on a different Soyuz. (They swap out Soyuz capsules about every six months.) The latest tourist, Guy Laliberte of Cirque du Soleil, took the big ride in October of 2009. Price tag (unofficially): about $25 to $35 million. Interesting note: Space Adventures in Virginia arranges the trips but has contracts with the Russian space agency. The Russians are the capitalists when it comes to space tourism.

You get to see the sun come up and go down 18 times a day—that’s 126 times if you’re there for a week.

Returning to the visual side of things, what do you really get to see for $25 million? Not as much as you would think. But the trip is still wonderful. Not that the visual part isn’t different and exciting; it is—especially to a space fan. Imagine balls of water from your water bottle shimmering and floating around you. You can swallow them whole. But the overall visual doesn’t match the hype of film and television. Let’s start with the International Space Station itself. The inside of the ISS is less than glamorous. Imagine the inside of a trailer (not even a double-wide) crammed with experimental stations and equipment, sometimes extending messily from the walls into the narrow central area. There’s even a new treadmill named after Stephen Colbert, but it’s just a treadmill. No visual thrill—but imagine what it’s like to float off of the treadmill as you try to run. It must definitely be a rush to float all of the time if you don’t get space sick (a form of motion sickness), which almost all astronauts do, although they don’t talk a lot about it. But, aesthetically, you might as well be in a small science lab back on earth. You can get excited (I would) about your water bottle—with fail-safe closure to avoid leaks—and your lunch floating around you at meal time. But things don’t look much different than they would inside a camper with rehydrated meals. “Ah, but the vast vistas of space,” you’re thinking. If you’re inside ISS, you’re looking through one of several “portholes” (like a ship’s), and the view is limited but impressive: a really black sky with startlingly bright points of light. It’s like looking through a small window in your house on a really dark night. “Earth! What about Earth?” you’re saying. “Earth from space must be truly magnificent.”

Image courtesy of NASA.


Price tag (unofficially):

“Does it get old?” Not if you’re a dedicated space tourist. But think of cruising around an island. How long do you want to watch the shoreline go by in the distance? Or think of a coast-tocoast flight across the U.S. Do you ever get tired of watching the scenery go by? When does the visual excitement end? (Is that why they show movies?) “What about the trip going up and coming back down?” Up has to be an adrenaline rush! Violent shaking, deafening, pounding noise, squashed in your seat at up to six gravities—jammed with two other people in a space smaller than your sofa. About twelve minutes of thrill ride followed by—absolutely nothing! No rocket noise, no weight. You might see a little through the small ports of a Soyuz capsule, but not much. Coming down gets more interesting. Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, said he watched the flames from the burning heat shield

The time over the top is about four minutes. You get to float around, look out the ports, and see the curvature of the earth and the ground below (not necessarily the United States—there may be departure points in other countries). This is visually fun. You can’t see as much as you can from the ISS, but there’s not a lot of time to be bored. You’re also closer to the earth (about 60+ miles up instead of ISS’s 240 miles up) so you can see more details. My guess (only a guess) is that the visual would be more thrilling because you can see more detail and you’re cramming as much experience as you can into the short flight. Estimated price: $200,000. You can currently put down a deposit with Virgin Galactic—exact year of flight to be determined. A final thought. If you’ll sacrifice the visual and go strictly for the weightlessness, Zero G Corporation [www.gozerog.com] offers weightless flights. The airplane is a specially modified Boeing 727 that flies in a rollercoaster-like, parabolic flight path in which you’d experience anywhere from about twelve to forty seconds of weightlessness. Exterior visual stimulation: none. Watching your fellow passengers float around the padded interior of the plane: priceless. w

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But here’s the catch. ISS circles the earth every ninety minutes and moves over different points on the surface; that means there’s a new sunrise and sunset every hour and a half. And the earth is turning, so there’s a slightly different view of it each orbit. But how long would you want to watch that? You get to see the sun come up and go down 18 times a day—that’s 126 times if you’re there for a week.

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It is—and it isn’t. By day, it’s more brown than green, and there are often clouds blocking the view. When the clouds form into a hurricane, it’s impressive. Otherwise, they’re just white fluff blocking the brown and blue below. By night, the earth is truly amazing. Developed areas light up, the black continents sparkle in the inhabited regions, and you can even see the dividing line between day and night. Sounds great.

A cheaper space tourism experience is available, if it ever gets started. Virgin Galactic, with the help of Burt Rutan’s engineering genius, will be offering short trips into space. A twin-fuselage mothership (WhiteKnight 2) will carry a small rocket-propelled ship (Spaceship 2) with six passengers up to about 55,000 feet where the atmosphere is much thinner. The rocket is then ignited and Spaceship 2 goes straight up like a bat out of hell. The engine cuts off on the way up, and the ship coasts over the top of a flight arc like a rollercoaster. The peak of the flight is slightly over 100 kilometers, which makes it a space trip and qualifies the passengers for true “astronaut wings.”

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about $25 to $35 million.

around the ports, and then the ports went black from the ash, and then there was nothing but the wild swaying of the capsule under a parachute. It’s visually stimulating if you like a few terrifying moments. That’s International Space Station tourism.

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(Re)Views

From A Trip to the Moon (1902) to Moon (2009) by Ivy Moylan

A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902), directed by Georges Méliès MOON (2009), directed by Duncan Jones, starring Sam Rockwell

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he moon is a constant fixture in our night sky. Its power over the Earth is both physical and mythical, affecting the tides and often accused of influencing our

moods and behavior. As our planet’s closest celestial body, the moon has been a

feature of science fiction for nearly a century. The silent film, A Trip to the Moon, produced in 1902 by filmmaker and magician Georges Méliès, is credited as the first science fiction film and has presented us with one of the most beloved folk images of the moon in the past century. Inspired by the writing of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, the film simultaneously criticizes then-conventional scientific knowledge, while offering a whimsical fantasy of what mysteries the moon may hold. Approaching the idea of space travel long before the Space Age, the story has parallels with the recorded experiences of adventurers and colonizers exploring new territories on Earth.

18-image mosaic of the illuminated surface of the moon compiled from images taken by the Mariner 10 spacecraft on March 29, 1974, as it retreated from the planet. Image courtesy of NSSDC/NASA.

The film begins on Earth with scientists’ animated discussion of sending a rocket to the moon. Their gestures are theatrical, but the scenes showing the discourse, the engineering of the rocket, and the city’s environment (a long view that includes an abundance of smokestacks and smog) are not without a sense of realism. The moon is a fantastical place. With the features of a man’s face, it’s presented like a character from a children’s story. The moon watches the approaching rocket ship, which lands in its eye—creating one of the most famous and memorable images in film history. When the scientists disembark from their ship, they find the moon to be a place of wonder and danger. The terrain is full of strange vegetation, magical beings and dangerous natives. The rest of the celestial bodies are as much gods and goddesses as they are stars and planets. This is their world where the scientists aren’t welcome. They’re punished with explosions, snow and are eventually chased away by the native beings.


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“The power of the moon. The power of our future. - Moon

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Like A Trip to the Moon, 2009’s Moon is influenced by contemporary science. It also begins in a realistic context, with an advertisement-like montage of images to communicate the environment and setting. The film cuts to a space station—Mining Base Sarang—and we are on the moon. The protagonist Sam, played by Sam Rockwell, is nearing the end of his three-year contract on the mining station and looking forward to getting back to Earth and his family. It’s clear that he has done his best to stay sane while being completely alone on the moon with only a robot named Gerty for company. In a routine drive on the moon’s landscape, Sam crashes his vehicle only to wake up at some point later, back on the base. Gerty informs him that he had an accident, and Sam (and the audience) struggles to figure out exactly what happened and why. But perhaps more engaging than this mystery is the relationship between Gerty and Sam, an external counterpart to the internal struggle Sam experiences as he faces the infinity of space while being completely isolated on the moon. Unlike A Trip to the Moon, Moon stands upon the shoulders of science-fiction movies, as well as the real history of human space travel, that have come before it. It presents familiar images that remind the viewer of everything from Kubrick’s 2001 to Life magazine’s publication of photos of the first landing on the moon. The viewer responds to these touchstone visual markers with her own emotional associations and remembrances. While some may find these connections distracting, I found myself more engrossed because of them. These were familiar visions of the moon and space, visions that in some ways I had visited before. Moon presents an isolated and confined place. Unlike Méliès’ moon, there is nothing fantastic about it. It is a barren wasteland. After nearly 100 years, visualizations of the moon’s landscape have changed quite dramatically. But the wonder that the moon—and space in general—represents remains the same. It is a mysterious, exciting, sometimes threatening place full of unknown challenges. It is our bridge to the infinity of space, a complete departure from life on Earth, a thing for contemplation. w


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Visions

in the next issue...

“Vision and Visions in Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross” Dr. Robert Belton and Dr. Bernd Kersten “Invisible Friends: The creation of imaginary companions in childhood and beyond” Dr. Tracy R. Gleason

Image by Wayne Kleppe

“The Simulation of the God Experience within the Laboratory” Dr. M. A. Persinger Glimpse interviews Dr. Kathryne Beebe about medieval nuns’ imaginary pilgrimages Glimpse interviews Dr. Michael Winkelman about the evolutionary origins of shamanic visions and more...


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GLIMPSE | vol 2.4, winter 2009-10 | Cosmos  

The "Cosmos" issue investigates the history and technologies of seeing beyond Earth's atmosphere. From Mayan and pre-Christian civilizations...

GLIMPSE | vol 2.4, winter 2009-10 | Cosmos  

The "Cosmos" issue investigates the history and technologies of seeing beyond Earth's atmosphere. From Mayan and pre-Christian civilizations...

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