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Thursday, November 13, 2008

A bit of perspective on the exo planet pictures.

I know that most people, if they are fans of any of the incarnations of Star Trek over the years, know what a light year is. It's a measure of distance (not time) and is simply the distance traveled by light in one year. It's roughly 5,878,625,373,183.61 miles. Big number eh? now you know why we use light years to measure distances in space. Now, in Star Trek, they use light years the way we would use the terms miles or kilometers, as simple distances to be covered in a short amount of time. This is great for the Enterprise as it has it's warp engines that do away with Professor Einstein and his math. On a side note, when asked how fast warp speed was, one of the Star Trek writers responded , "as fast as the plot needs to be". For us who don't have access to Mr. Scott's engines, we're stuck with Einstein. Except, that's not as bad as it may sound. I said that a light year is a measure of distance not time but when we are taking about looking through a telescope either with our eyes or with the sophisticated sensor equipment available to science, we are truly looking back in time.

Fomalhaut is about 25 light years from Earth. That means that the light (measured in photons) left Fomalhaut 25 years ago in 1983. Ask yourself, what were you doing in 1983? Lech Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize; M*A*S*H broadcast it's final episode; Star Wars, Return of the Jedi was the top grossing film of the year: Ronald Reagan was President of the United States...And the light from that small speck left the planet and started a journey across space. 25 years later, it fell onto the camera lens of a small cylinder orbiting around a small blue planet.

Keep those distances in mind the next time you look up at the stars. The light from some of the most spectacular objects out there might be thousands or even hundred of thousands of years old and has ended it's journey by shining in your eyes.

1 comments:

Nite Sky Girl said...

interestingly written