We were taking turns looking at the moon last night though the binoculars. It was just stunning. So clear. You could see its relief, the craters, the cheese. I kept going back just to have one last look. A couple of nights earlier, our new friend Eric, the retired Brittany dentist, had pointed out Mars and Saturn and Mercury. The night sky can look exceptional here. And it helps to have someone who can point out interesting stuff too.
For my birthday last year, we were in the UK. Dave, my dad and I went to the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland. The show started at midnight which necessitated driving up into the forest, hoping for clear skies. We left Hexham on a clear bright night but as we drove north we could see the fog gathering over the river Tyne and by the time we arrived at 11.45pm, it was thick and claggy meaning no telescopes tonight. Oh well. We know about weather and plans and occasional disappointments, being boat dwellers.
We had an enjoyable evening but I was sad we’d couldn’t look out into the dark skies. That was going to be the fun bit. There was however a particular story that stood out. One of the physicists / astronomers talked about the scale of the universe. Here’s my recollection of how it went.
He showed us a photo which just looked like lots of stars. He explained it was actually many overlaid photos of just one particular area of the sky taken by the Hubble telescope built up over an extended period of time. There were 3,500 pinpricks of light in the photo. I didn’t count them. I believed him.
He explained that each of these faint pin pricks of light was a galaxy. I was able to make sense of this by reminding myself that the Milky Way is our galaxy with the sun and associated planets, Jupiter, Uranus, Pluto etc.
He told us that each galaxy will have a minimum of 600 million stars, stars like our sun, and so far, astronomers have never found a star without at least one planet. That’s minimum by the way. The Milky Way has an estimated one hundred thousand million. Gulp.
The mind numbing bit came next. Get a friend to hold up a tennis ball up in the sky, 100m away from you. The Hubble telescope picture represented a piece of sky the same size as that tennis ball.
If my memory is correct, he said that was 1/24 millionth of the whole sky. So 3,500 galaxies in one tennis ball at 100m. Proving in no uncertain terms, it’s all pretty big out there. That’s a darned feast of stars and planets. Numbers too big by far to get my diminishing brain power to fully understand. But definitely worth thinking about occasionally. The tennis ball is a useful unit of size.
Back in a smaller space, two delivery companies are attempting to transport a couple of packages from the States to French Polynesia. One package is in Australia, the second is in Korea. How, why? Will we ever see them? As Toyah said, “It’s a mystery”. They make take longer to get here than light does from a place far far away. Packages are dictating when we move SE down the tuamotan chain.
And finally, I met a local family when I was out on a bike ride a couple of days ago. We had a smiley disjointed mismatched french / english conversation. Football teams have on many occasions during our travels provided a useful way of talking geography and where we are from. Usually locals will be familiar with Man United or Liverpool. This guy. The first team he mentioned completely unprompted, Newcastle. I’ll just repeat that. Newcastle. He’s now my friend for life.