Posts Tagged With: Cosmology

A Galaxy…far, far away

As I usually try to do while up in the mountains, I set the alarm for 3am the other night and got up to do some hand-numbing astrophotography at 9,000 feet. I captured something I have never captured before in what was one of the clearest of clear night skies I have ever witnessed. The “cloudy” vertical band going through the center of this photo is our Milky Way Galaxy (which we are swirling about as we speak). Every bright dot you see is a star in our galaxy, stars similar to our sun (and there are hundreds of billions just in our galaxy alone, and trillions of planets among them). But if you look inside of the red square, you will see a bright object with a slight blur (or halo) around it. That is not a star. This is the Andromeda Galaxy. It is our closest neighboring spiral galaxy, about 2.5 million light years away (1 light year = nearly 6 trillion miles, so you can do the math – hardly “close” at all, only relatively so). It has taken 2.5 million years for this light captured in this image to reach Earth, so what we are actually seeing in that square is the light that left Andromeda 2.5 million years ago…seeing back through cosmic time.

This is the first time I was able to photograph Andromeda. Think about what we are looking at here. Contained inside of that tiny little pinpoint of blurry light there is a gathering of over a trillion stars (suns), and an uncountable number of planets (and that’s just ONE galaxy among hundreds and hundreds of BILLIONS out there in the observable universe). Fascinating! Would you agree? (Now your minds are probably as numb as my hands were while fumbling around with the camera settings in the piercing cold of mountain night.)

Andromeda is on a collision course with the Milky Way. We know this by observing and measuring the wavelengths of blue light shift. Two galaxies, heading straight towards one another at astronomical speeds (a cosmic pun I just dropped there). Due to the unfathomable distance, it’ll take about 4 billion years before our galaxy collides with Andromeda and begins a long, swirling cosmic tango which will restructure both galaxies as they merge into one. The really amazing thing about it is that, due to the unimaginably vast distances between all the individual stars, it is unlikely that any of the trillions of stars will even come into contact with one another during this collision. 

Before this cosmic event happens in an estimated 4 billion years, our Earth will have long been swallowed by our own expanding sun, before the sun finally explodes into a white dwarf. Either way you slice it, it’s a temporary existence we have here. But for now, we have an amazing opportunity to enjoy our planet and appreciate all that we know and have learned about the universe, and our place in it, all because we became aware of our selves and of our ignorance long ago and began to ask the questions that would lead to the expanding of our minds. Let’s be sure to take care of Earth while we have her (or while she still has us) and be grateful each time we look up into the night sky, knowing that each one of us belongs to the one lucky species among millions that beat inconceivable odds to even be here in the first place…and be grateful that our ancestors decided to look up at the night sky one day and ask the age-old question that still keeps us staring up in awe and infinite wonder: “What else is out there among the stars?” 

#GringoWithAGreenBag

 

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Categories: Inspiration, Life, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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