I wanted to share some images with you that had me transfixed when I was a young boy (and still do to this day). I recall first seeing them in a hardback book of my father’s called Cosmos (which presumably accompanied the TV series that was being broadcast at the time).
The images depict the fate of our planet as the Sun transitions into a red giant star, at the very end of its life, some 4-5 billion years from now.
As the temperature of the Sun slowly increases, the oceans recede and our precious atmosphere is stripped away. Eventually the whole horizon is overwhelmed by the Sun in a bloated distended form, with the final image showing the Earth completely barren and parched.
I remember wondering at the time – where would all the people and animals be? Would we perish or find some new star to call our home? I think it was the first moment I glimpsed the immensity of stellar time scales and how tiny human lives and endeavours appeared to be next to these vast physical processes.
This is still what fascinates me most about astronomy and cosmology, and it’s amazing how something as natural and simple as looking up at the stars is a gateway into these incredible realms of the imagination.
Anyway here are the images, including their original captions. I was also pleased to find out that Adolf Shaller is still producing amazing art. Try an image search on Google with his name and enjoy.
This is Bode’s galaxy (M81), an easily accessible island universe in Ursa Major that’s visible all year round from mid to high northern latitudes. It contains approximately 250 billion stars.
It lies over 10 million light years away and has a relatively close galactic companion – the M82 Cigar galaxy. Both of these galaxies can be framed in a low power telescopic eyepiece, and you can even see them very faintly in binoculars if your skies are suitably dark.
I thought I’d use this galaxy to highlight how astronomers use the full electromagnetic spectrum of light to study galaxies and their evolution. Pictured below, therefore, are images of M81 viewed in different wavelengths of light – from X-rays to radio waves (spanning short to long wavelengths). I’ve provided a very brief description of some of the galactic features revealed by each band of light.
X-rays: a central bright patch is revealed, suggestive of a supermassive black hole within the galactic nucleus. The other bright patches correspond to X-ray binary systems.
Ultraviolet: highlights young hot stars and therefore areas of active star formation within the spiral arms of the galaxy.
Optical and Infrared: Shows the bulk of the stellar population and areas of obscuring dust and nebulosity that will seed ongoing star formation.
Radio: Reveals supernova remnants and large H2 regions of ionised gas in the vicinity of very active stellar populations.
As humans our eyes have evolved to see a very narrow band of the full EM spectrum. This evolution is tied to the fact our particular star (the Sun) releases its peak energy in these wavelengths. I always like to imagine how other species, perhaps evolving next to giant sources of x-rays, might have sensory apparatus totally blind to visible light.
Here’s a look at some of the binoculars I use for stargazing and astronomy, both hand held and tripod mounted.
I’d say 90% of my observing is done with binoculars over telescopes due to their versatility and speed of use. This is especially relevant if you live anywhere with changeable weather, when sometimes brief openings appear in the sky.
If you enjoyed this video and found it useful please let me known and if you feel like buying me a coffee I’d really appreciate that too (link below).
Here’s a short video I edited together celebrating binocular views of our Moon. All footage was shot using a simple tripod mounted binocular setup and captured via mobile phone (so pretty low resolution). I especially love observing the Moon emerging from layers of clouds – something we’re in no short supply of here in Scotland.I hope you enjoy it. Music kindly provided by Rising Galaxy at Cosmicleaf Records
Join me tomorrow evening for the launch event of the 2021 Hebridean Dark Skies Festival, where I’ll be offering some tips on what to see in February’s night skies. You can pick up your free tickets to the online stream from An Lanntair here.
I’ll also be featuring in a live discussion about the festival and Scotland’s dark skies this Sunday morning on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland Radio show. Tune in from about 9.30am.
“Hebridean Dark Skies Festival online launch event is tomorrow night at 7pm! If you’ve already booked a free ticket we’ll be sending you a weblink shortly. If you haven’t, reserve your place now for a guided virtual tour of our Lumen exhibition, Highland Astronomy on what to see in the night sky in February, musician Renzo Spiteri on his festival commission, and more.” – An Lanntair
I’ll once again be collaborating with Abriachan Forest (a dark sky discover site) to bring you another online Star Stories in February. This month we have two guest speakers fulfilling the astronomy and storytelling segments.
Eric Walker from the Highlands Astronomical Society joins us to speak about his passion for night sky and deep sky photography. He’ll be sharing some great tips to help you capture the wonders of the night sky yourself and many of the breathtaking pictures he’s captured over the years. (http://www.spacegazer.com)
Afterwards we’ll be joined by Daniel Allison – an acclaimed oral storyteller who performs everywhere from schools and prisons to global festivals. Daniel hosts the House of Legends Podcast and is the author of The Bone Flute, Silverborn, Scottish Myths & Legends and Finn & The Fianna. (https://www.houseoflegends.me)
Plus a What’s Up guide to the night sky from your truly. Due to current circumstances this event is free and open to everyone however we would kindly ask you to donate to the speakers directly via links which will go up during the sessions.Many thanks for your support in advance.