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Two pics to make your jaw drop…

Every now and then a “space pic” comes along that really makes your jaw hit the floor. They’re not that common; typically there’s one “wow!” image a month, even every couple of months…

But two have hit the net in the past few days, which I really wanted to share with you.

First, there’s this beauty…

That pic was taken by the Saturn-orbiting CASSINI probe as it soared over the surface of Enceladus, Saturn’s icy moon. Enceladus is famous for the geysers which gush out of its “Tiger Stripes”, long fissures which cross the south pole and look like marks made by the prongs of a fork. We’ve seen many images now of those geysers in action, but all have been from the side, showing the geysers’ plumes silhouetted against the blackness of space…

… but that image above shows one of the plumes from above… It looks misty on its left because… deep breath… CASSINI is looking down into the Tiger Stripe, and looking down onto – and into – the plume…

That’s science fiction right there before your eyes, my friends!

And as if that wasn’t enough, less than an hour ago another beauty hit the net…

Now, admittedly that doesn’t look like very much. You should click on it to enlarge it. Go on, I’ll hang on here until you get back…

You saw those two bright objects at the lower left? Can you guess what they are? I’ll give you a clue…

Yes, those two bright points of light are the Earth and the Moon, photographed from space – specifically, from the MESSENGER spacecraft, which will go into orbit around Mercury in the not too distant future…

Take a closer look…

That bright blob on the left – that’s us… that’s you and me… I don;t know about you, but I find that image absolutely electrifying.

As the great Carl Sagan said:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

And people ask me why I am so passionate about astronomy…

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7 Responses

  1. My chin is getting bruised over the last few months!
    Amazing stuff.

  2. Ta.

  3. The picture of the Earth & moon – stunning, amazing, awe-inspiring.

  4. […] course, they’re also good just for being nice pictures. Stuart Atkinson has put up a post with one of the Enceladus pictures taken by Cassini, and another picture taken from the Mercury […]

  5. Beautiful.
    And some of us can’t help but hum the tune to “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” while viewing these images.
    I wonder how you are impassioned by Sagan’s comments. They sadly lack hope, where hope is indeed offered from elsewhere.

  6. What Sagan book or passaga is this from? Please give me more info and suggestions to read!!!!

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