Monday, April 13, 2009

"Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt"

Dennis di Cicco of Sky & Telescope magazine has given us some original astrophotographs over the years, but this one (with Sean Walker) recently featured on APOD is pretty amazing: a view of a big swath of the night sky as it might appear if we had vastly more sensitive eyes. Not just stars, but swirls of gas and dust -- the veils and draperies of the Milky Way Galaxy out of which stars and planet are born.

Close-up photographs of particular features in the field show glowing colors, such as this one of the Great Orion Nebula (you can find the nebula in di Cicco and Walker's photograph three windows-lengths above the upper corner of the house with the two lighted windows). But here the much vaster wisps and streamers of gas appear in black and white, as the sky generally appears to the casual naked eye. (I have written at length about the visual color of stars in The Soul of the Night.) But even in black and white we get a sense of the fullness of space, the oceans and continents of starstuff, the billowings and gushings of which our own tiny planet is a mote of dust in a whirlwind. John Burroughs once suggested that if deep night were revealed to us in all its naked grandeur, it might be more than we could bear. Di Cicco and Walker give us a new glimpse of that naked grandeur.