On Monday night I was coming out of the drugstore and noticed two “stars” dangling right close to the crescent moon. From somewhere in the back of my mind I recalled reading something about this…but I couldn’t quite “pull up the file.”
I did deduce that those weren’t stars at all because stars are fixed relative to each other and so wouldn’t one day just show up on the moon’s doorstep.
So they must be planets because planets move around in their orbits independent of the star field behind them.
Quick pat on the back for my overall cleverness and then onto my Treo to Google the answer…and…yes! Venus and Jupiter! Venus is the bright one and Jupiter is right next to it. Whoa. Biggest planet in the solar system and 390 million miles away! And there it is.
So I ran home. (you know, drove home…) and grabbed my camera and tripod and dashed to this little pond on Carolina Hill to grab a picture. Littlefoil and Jillfoil wouldn’t be home for another 30 minutes or so maybe I can get a couple of long exposure shots before dinner duty and the bed-time ritual.
It was nice and warm too…good night to be out.
And I get there and I get all set up in total dork mode – tripod, cable release, everything. And of course, my camera battery was dead. And the voice of the guy at the camera shop came back to me…”you should buy a second battery so one is always charged.” Please. Don’t try to sell a salesman. I’m too clever for such a clumsy up-sell.
Back home. New plan. Charge the battery, get Littlefoil’s dinner going. Feed the boy. Bath. Skip the shampoo. Cup of milk. Bit of TV. Into bed where we read “Goodnight Maine” and then I’m off to get my picture.
Only now it’s raining. Clouds obscure everything.
So here is someone else’s picture of the event. SHIT!
It was cooler in real life. And fun to think about. I mean, Jupiter is 390 million miles away! That's so far. And there it is right there.
Think about this too...the little twinkle of light coming from Jupiter is just reflected sunlight. That means that the light I'm seeing left the sun, traveled about 484 million miles, bounced off Jupiter and then traveled 390 million more miles to reach my eyes.
What I'm seeing has traveled a grand total of about 874 million miles.
The speed of light is about 185,000 miles per second so that means that the light left the sun, travelled for about 44 minutes, bounced off Jupiter and then took another 35 minutes to reach me.
What a trip! And on truly cosmic scales, even that's a relatively short journey. Pluto is about 3.6 billion miles from the sun...meaning that sunlight reflecting off Pluto (not that the human eye can see it) would take over 13 days to reach us back here on earth. And Pluto is, of course, still in our solar system.
Other stars? The center of our galaxy? Other galaxies? Forget about it. Our brains evolved in a much smaller environment making these scales almost beyond comprehension.
For now, it's just kind of fun thinking about the 79 minute trip that little twinkle took just to reach me.
And there it is. Right there.