Universe Painted in Light

Uploaded by SpaceRip on 14.07.2010

jbjb Electrons? Moon speeding around a giant planet made of gas? Planets orbiting a distant
star? Satellites? This light is an idea an idea that promises new understanding simply
by delivering fresh perspectives and new perceptions. We perceive light--we see it but what we see
and what it means are not the same. Without context, detail means nothing. Oh, there are
so many factors at play here: what wavelengths of light can we see, how well can our brains
take what we see and turn it into something we understand? And also, how do we compare
ourselves to the thing we re observing? What tools do we use to help us capture information?
How do we turn light into data, data into pixels, pixels into meaning? Start with a planet. For example, Earth. And
as long as we re at it, let s tip the Earth to spin properly on its axis. Now, recall
our original points of light. Our idea. These are satellites in orbit. Satellites collect
data as the Earth rotates beneath them. Think of satellites as paint brushes working in
reverse: instead of painting planets with light, satellites collect light reflected
from planets below. With enough data we can paint a world. Data that make this image come
from instruments on two NASA satellites called AQUA and TERRA. These instruments see the
Earth in what we might regard as natural color. They can also see certain events as they happen.
There, splattered like white paint on a blue canvas, something important: Hurricane Katrina.
These satellites are only two of many that can see hurricanes. The stripes you see building
up come from a unique spacecraft called TRMM. Among the many remarkable things TRMM can
do, it can look inside hurricanes like nothing else in the world. See for yourself. TRMM
sees the actual body of the beast in three dimensions. Orange and red zones indicate
higher rainfall rates. Cloud spires called hot towers drive the storm s greedy grab for
energy. Removing the clouds, a separate instrument on the AQUA satellite measures ocean temperature.
Temperatures matter. Warm water is the gasoline that powers hurricane engines. This thermal
footprint shows fuel in the tank vital information for forecasters and scientists. The Earth changes. It breathes. And it surprises.
Though we live on a planet largely covered by water, we often forget that huge tracts
are frozen solid. Let s
change the perspective. Ice covers much of the world. The eternally frozen parts are
called the Cryosphere. It s the planet s thermostat, and a hydrological warehouse, and in terms
of a changing climate, it s the canary in a coalmine. You may live your whole life and
never visit these places, but these places will affect your life nonetheless. You know
this place. The Moon. Earth s closest neighbor is little more than a beautiful stranger across
an airless room. There are mysteries here and answers. And, like love, perhaps, destiny.
Back on Earth, day and night change like moods, with points of light pricking the darkness
like vaguely remembered dreams. City lights shine into space at night, like ancient campfires,
like candles of civilization. No other place beyond the Earth shows signs of life like
this, or shows signs of life at all. But we re looking. Before we can find life elsewhere,
we need to be good at reading its signs at home first. And on Earth, life is everywhere.
This is the living Earth: the biosphere. Phytoplankton bloom in vast oceanic fields. Land plants
pulse rhythmically with seasonal growth. Together, these sound the global heartbeat, the pulse
of life powered by the sun. The Sun. All energy on Earth comes from the sun. The car you rode
in this morning, the unabashed tomatoes and perfumed basil you coax from your garden each
summer, the two bars out of five on your cell phone, they re all quantities of energy. And
that means they re all connected to the sun. If you live on Earth, this is the nightlight
that matters most. The Moon the Earth the Sun: celestial spheres we see and feel everyday.
But in our solar neighborhood, there are other places, too. Fabulous places. Mysterious places.
As a tourist destination, Mars has an impressive brochure. The longest, deepest canyon in the
solar system. A volcano so high it s peak climbs above most of the Martian atmosphere.
Nothing like these places exists on Earth. Nothing. This is Mars seen differently. You
re looking at an elevation map made with an orbiting laser. Red and white areas reach
high above the average. Blues and purples show lowlands. If Mars were covered in oceans,
the northern hemisphere would be under water. Imagine the first human footprints left on
the shore. What is the world we create in our minds? We create, depending on what we
want to see. At first, it was enough just to walk, to run, to get wet in the rain, to
simply touch the forces of nature. But once in motion: imagination. Then: space, perspective.
We see what we set out to find. we see what we choose to see. There are often surprises.
This is from a NASA mission called WMAP. If the whole universe were a person, this would
be its first baby picture. There are no stars here, no galaxies, certainly no planets. But
there is energy. The rest came soon enough, once the new kid could collect herself. This
is the universe we see today. It s a lively place. That s a gamma ray burst, spotted by
NASA SWIFT satellite. These cosmic blasts have long puzzled scientists. They may be
stars collapsing in upon themselves, or two densely packed remnants of stars merging together.
But in either case, scientists believe they herald the births of black holes. They re
the most powerful explosions in the universe after the Big Bang. And they seem to happen
all the time, as often as once a day. Satellites like WMAP and SWIFT are rapidly coloring our
perceptions about our place in the universe. What we know is a function of what we think
to ask, what we challenge ourselves to see. We look outwards as much as we look inwards,
for if there is any certainty in the journey of knowledge it s that travel in any direction
can lead to the same destination. We see only what we look for, and in space and on Earth
we seek the wisdom to ask the right questions. Electrons Normal Thomas Lucas Microsoft Word
10.1 Thomas Lucas Productions, Inc. Electrons Title Microsoft Word Document NB6W Word.Document.8