My address: Planet Earth, Orion spur, the Perseus arm of the Milky Way Galaxy
“A galaxy is a gargantuan collection of stellar and interstellar matter – stars, gas, dust, neutron stars, black holes – isolated in space and held together by its own gravity. Astronomers are aware of literally millions of galaxies beyond our own.” Astronomy Today*
Looking up to the night sky with eyes alone, unaided by binoculars or telescope for magnification, many of us experience an inalienable sense of connection, belonging and awe.
Our involvement is enriched when we view celestial objects like planet Saturn, the Pleiades and distant nebulae through the eyepiece of a telescope. When there was an opportunity for telescope time at the Berkshire gathering of amateur astronomers two weeks ago, I intended to participate but my dates were rained out. Wishing to learn what the stargazers had seen during their time in Plainfield, MA, I contacted Kenneth Blumberg, who is known to be a talented astrophotographer among his fellow board members of Rockland Astronomy Club**, the sponsor of the Summer Star Party.
Graphic view of our Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way Galaxy is organized into spiral arms of giant stars that illuminate interstellar gas and dust. The Sun is in a finger called the Orion Spur. Overlaid is a graphic of galactic longitude in relation to our Sun. Credit: NASA/Adler/U.Chicago/Wesleyan/JPL-Caltech
Dr. Blumberg, a radiologist, related to me that he “became interested in astronomy in 1998 when the very bright naked eye comet Hale-Bopp was around, amazing to see with naked eye and even better with simple binoculars.” He continued, “I viewed it in my backyard every night until it was too close to the sun to be seen… I bought an issue of Astronomy magazine to see what else is out there and realized there were many things to be learned about and seen. Within a year I was trying astrophotography… I guess imaging is my thing professionally and as a hobby!”
In the sky above Plainfield, MA, 180 miles northeast of Lower Manhattan, Kenneth Blumberg located and photographed the Pinwheel Galaxy. This amazing image moved me to contemplate our own Milky Way Galaxy, which is also a spiral galaxy. NASA’s graphic, published here, helps us to visualize planet Earth orbiting the Sun on the outskirts of the great island of stars we call the Milky Way Galaxy.
We’ve learned the address of our home in the universe: Planet Earth, Orion spur, the Perseus arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Can we find ourselves in these exquisite images?
*Astronomy Today Fourth Edition by Eric Chaisson and Steve McMillan, Prentice Hall, Saddle River, NJ 2002. Page 600
Opportunities to participate
NASA Selfies: photograph yourself in a spacesuit near a nebula
September 6 – 9 Connecticut Star Party: Astronomical Society of New Haven
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