Tag: European Space Agency

Still musing about love.

Five days of writing about love and none the clearer!

So here I am penning Friday’s post about love.  You will recall that on Monday I wrote:

In last week’s telephone conversation MaryAnne spoke so easily about love that I promised her that I would dedicate a post on Learning from Dogs to her.

In fact, rather than one post, I’m setting myself the challenge of writing about love for the entire week, i.e. Monday to Friday.  I will readily admit that over and beyond today’s post, I don’t have more than the vaguest inkling of how the week will pan out.  You have been warned!

Ironically, up until yesterday things fell into place pretty easily.  But I must confess that today’s post has been a struggle. I read the love quotes over on the Brainy Quote website to find some inspiration.  None found.  Not that there weren’t many, many beautiful sayings but the incredible spread of quotations just magnified the difficulty of pinning down something to write about.

Then I did a web search for ‘love stories’.  Came across the story of The Lost Wallet.  It was moving but seemed too perfect a love story – try it yourself if you want.

Then back to the Brainy Quote website and once more meandered through the love quotes.  Saw this one.

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.Carl Sagan

That struck a chord.  A few hours earlier I had been sorting out my photographs and came across this one.

The Herschel Horsehead Nebula.
The Herschel Horsehead Nebula.

I had grabbed this image a month ago from the announcement on ESA’s website:

19 April 2013 New views of the Horsehead Nebula and its turbulent environment have been unveiled by ESA’s Herschel space observatory and the NASA/ESA Hubble space telescope.

The Horsehead Nebula lies in the constellation Orion, about 1300 light-years away, and is a popular target for amateur and professional astronomers alike. It sits just to the south of star Alnitak, the easternmost of Orion’s famous three-star belt, and is part of the vast Orion Molecular Cloud complex.

The new far-infrared Herschel view shows in spectacular detail the scene playing out around the Horsehead Nebula at the right-hand side of the image, where it seems to surf like a ‘white horse’ in the waves of turbulent star-forming clouds.

It appears to be riding towards another favourite stopping point for astrophotographers: NGC 2024, also known as the Flame Nebula. This star-forming region appears obscured by dark dust lanes in visible light images, but blazes in full glory in the far-infrared Herschel view.

The image is staggeringly beautiful yet a potent reminder that man, even the totality of our planet, is such an irrelevance in the scheme of things.  We are surrounded by beauty both within and without, yet the fragility of our existance is a ‘vastness’, both literally and psychologically.

Guess what!  Writing that last sentence brought to mind a photograph that I took Wednesday afternoon. As part of the Land Stewardship course Jean and I are taking, the class had gone to the Limpy Creek Botanical area in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest not far from Grants Pass, Oregon.  Here’s that photograph.


Reflect on the delicate beauty and vulnerability of that small wild flower. A perfect metaphor for the entire natural world.

So I am going to close this week’s perambulation through love with the thought that if we don’t love our planet with all the ardour and passion of a teenager’s first romance, all those other loves in our lives will ultimately become irrelevant.

Or as Carl Sagan put it:

Our mission is to awaken the broadest possible public to the wonders of nature as revealed by science.

Thank you, MaryAnne.

Just a small, white dot!

Does rather serve to remind us of our place in the scheme of things.

This stunning image was taken by the Cassini-Huygens probe.  Many of the images taken by NASA are available for download from the DVIDS website, which is where this one was found. (But also do visit the Ciclops website.)

The title of the photograph is:

A View of Earth from Saturn

A View of Earth from Saturn: Image of the Day

Although the Earth Observatory typically reserves ”Image of the Day” space for publishing data and images acquired by Earth-observing satellites, we are sometimes so enthralled by the spectacular images acquired by spacecraft observing other parts of the solar system that we want to share these ‘otherworldy’ views with our visitors. And if you are looking for remotely sensed images of the Earth, this view is the most remotely sensed image we have ever published!

This beautiful image of Saturn and its rings looks more like an artist’s creation than a real image, but in fact, the image is a composite (layered image) made from 165 images taken by the wide-angle camera on the Cassini spacecraft over nearly three hours on September 15, 2006.

Scientists created the color in the image by digitally compositing ultraviolet, infrared, and clear-filter images and then adjusting the final image to resemble natural color. (A clear filter is one that allows in all the wavelengths of light the sensor is capable of detecting.) The bottom image [the one above. Ed.] is a closeup view of the upper left quadrant of the rings, through which Earth is visible in the far, far distance.

On this day, Saturn interceded between the Sun and Cassini, shielding Cassini from the Sun’s glare. As the spacecraft lingered in Saturn’s shadow, it viewed the planet’s rings as never before, revealing previously unknown faint rings and even glimpsing its home world. Seen from more than a billion kilometers (almost a billion miles) away, through the ice and dust particles of Saturn’s rings, Earth appears as a tiny, bright dot to the left and slightly behind Saturn.

Although it might appear that Earth is located within Saturn’s outermost rings, that positioning is just an illusion created by the enormous distance between Cassini and Earth. When Cassini took this image, the spacecraft was looking back at Saturn from a distance of about 2.2.million kilometers (about 1.3 million miles). The Sun was millions of additional miles beyond, hidden behind Saturn. On September 15, Earth’s orbit had brought our home planet to a location slightly behind and to the left of the Sun from Cassini’s perspective. The Website of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) provides more detailed information about this image. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency.

Trying to find that faint image of Planet Earth in the above photograph is a challenge, even for those with much younger eyes than mine.

However, with a little bit of jiggery-pokery I was able to crop and enlarge the photograph, see below:


Planet Earth is in the ’10 o’clock’ position in the photograph, about half-way from the centre of the enlarged segment towards the top-left corner of the picture, just outside the outer white ring.

That’s us. All that we have ever been. All that we ever will be. Just that small white dot.

Stunning NASA Shuttle picture

The incredible achievements of man.

The International Space Station and the Docked Space Shuttle Endeavour

From the BBC website,

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

It is a stunning image and one that is bound to be reproduced over and over again whenever they recall the history of the US space shuttle.

The picture was taken by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli as he left the International Space Station in May in a Soyuz capsule to return to Earth.

Safety procedures mean the Russian vehicle would never normally be in transit when a shuttle is present.

It makes this the first-ever image of an American orbiter docked to the ISS.

Endeavour sits firmly on the bow of the station, which is moving across the surface of the Earth at a speed of 27,000km/h (17,000mph) and at an altitude of approximately 355km (220 miles).

Nespoli’s camera is looking along the ISS’s truss, or backbone, which carries the four sets of giant solar wings. The stern is occupied by Europe’s robotic freighter – the Johannes Kepler ship.

The pictures were acquired on 23 May but were only released by the US space agency (Nasa) on Tuesday [7th June, PH]. They had been eagerly awaited by space fans.

Nespoli had spent a lot of time during his 159-day stay at the station taking pictures of Earth and life aboard the international outpost. Many of these images were posted on his mission Flickr account. It was widely expected therefore that the European Space Agency astronaut would get some excellent shots during the unique departure.

Enthusiasts on the ground with telescopes routinely try to snap a shuttle attached to the ISS, and some of the results have been very impressive. But none of these pictures compares to the majestic portrait acquired by Nespoli so close to the orbiting complex.

The timing and subject are also perfect. Endeavour is seen here making her final sortie into orbit, making the last big US assembly item delivery – a $2bn particle physics experiment known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. The seven-tonne machine now sits on top of the platform.

Endeavour was also the orbiter chosen to take up the first American segment of the platform when the project had just got started in the late 1990s.

The youngest of Nasa’s shuttles returned to Earth on 1 June and will now be prepared for public display at a science museum in California. Sister ship Atlantis stands ready on the launch pad in Florida for a swansong of her own in July. Once her mission is done, no orbiter will ever fly again.

Nespoli’s crewmates in the Soyuz were Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev; and Nasa astronaut Cady Coleman. Apart from the photo opportunity, their departure was a standard ISS crew rotation flight.

Their replacements blasted off from Kazakhstan on Tuesday in another Soyuz vehicle. Nasa astronaut Mike Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa are scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Thursday, raising its complement once again to six individuals.

The venerable Soyuz will be the only way for astronauts and cosmonauts to reach the platform in the years following the retirement of the shuttle fleet.

Nasa hopes some US commercial carriers will become available in the middle of the decade.

The NASA weblink attributed above is here, from which can be read,

This image of the International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour, flying at an altitude of approximately 220 miles, was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011 (USA time). The pictures taken by Nespoli are the first taken of a shuttle docked to the International Space Station from the perspective of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.  Onboard the Soyuz were Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev; Nespoli, a European Space Agency astronaut; and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman. Coleman and Nespoli were both flight engineers. The three landed in Kazakhstan later that day, completing 159 days in space.

Do go to the NASA website here as there are a total of 40 stunning images.

Man’s first orbit around Planet Earth.

A wonderful tribute to Yuri Gagarin and all his team.

When I recently wrote of it being 41 years since Swigert on board Apollo 13 transmitted “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” I also included a closing reflection as follows,

Finally, this Post is published, not only on the 41st anniversary of that memorable Apollo Flight but the day after the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight of a human into space, the 12th April, 1961.

Coincidentally, our favourite documentary film website, Top Documentary Films, featured on April 14th the new film First Orbit.  We watched the film that night.  It was a most unusual format for a film, yet a most haunting experience.  Watching the credits, it then became clear that the film was a co-operative venture made especially for the 50th anniversary of that remarkable, historic flight.

Of course, had I previously been aware of the venture and this remarkable film then it would have been promoted on Learning from Dogs in good time before the anniversary date.  However, better late than never!

Indeed, there is a dedicated website in recognition of this First Orbit.  Here’s the background to the film,

April 12th 1961 – Yuri Gagarin is about to see what no other person has seen in the history of humanity – the Earth from space. In the next 108 minutes he’ll see more than most people do in a lifetime. What sights awaited the first cosmonaut silently gliding over the world below? What was it like to view the oceans and continents sailing by from such a height?

In a unique collaboration with the European Space Agency, and the Expedition 26/27 crew of theInternational Space Station, we have created a new film of what Gagarin first witnessed fifty years ago.

By matching the orbital path of the Space Station, as closely as possible, to that of Gagarin’s Vostok 1spaceship and filming the same vistas of the Earth through the new giant cupola window, astronaut Paolo Nespoli, and documentary film maker Christopher Riley, have captured a new digital high definition view of the Earth below, half a century after Gagarin first witnessed it.

Weaving these new views together with historic, recordings of Gagarin from the time, (subtitled in Englsih) and an original score by composer Philip Sheppard, we have created a spellbinding film to share with people around the world on this historic anniversary.

The music in the film is most beautiful, quite moving.  Here’s the background to the music from the First Orbit website,

The music in our film is all composed by Philip Sheppard and comes from his album Cloud Songs.

First Orbit’s producer Christopher Riley first worked with Philip in 2006 on the Sundance Award winning feature documentary film ‘In the Shadow of the Moon‘ and since then Philip had been working on a new suite of music inspired by spaceflight.

“We’d been working with some of these tracks on another project” says Chris, “and we suddenly realised how perfectly they could compliment ‘First Orbit’ as well. We contacted Philip to ask his permission to use them, only to find that his entire Cloud Song album was already in orbit onboard the International Space Station!”

“NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, had them on her iPod” says Philip. “Her husband Josh Simpson is a friend of mine and they’d listened to a lot of my music together before she left, so I made up a playlist for her!”

Quite by coincidence Cady had been listening to the music in ‘First Orbit’ at one end of the Space Station whilst European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli was shooting for the film at the other end, without either of them knowing the connection!

Back on Earth Chris and the film’s editor Stephen Slater took Philip’s tracks from Cloud Song and weaved them together with Paolo’s new views of the Earth to create the different moods of the film; from the first views of snowy Siberia to the darkness of night over the Pacific Ocean and the homecoming over Africa, as Gagarin starts to re-enter the atmosphere.

The result is a mesmerising combination of imagary and music which we hope convey the spectrum of emotions which no doubt went through Yuri’s mind as he gazed down upon the Earth.

Finally, here’s the film. It’s an hour and thirty-nine minutes and, as I said, an unconventional film experience.  But if any part of you either remembers the event or wonders what it was like, those 50 years ago, then find somewhere out of reach of interruptions and watch the film.