Good Afternoon! Do you ever look up at the night sky? If you’ve done so lately, from the northern hemisphere at least, you’ve noticed that just after sunset the planets Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter are fairly close together right now, appearing in a line stretching upwards from the western horizon.
This line is called the ecliptic, and because our solar system is arranged on a relatively flat plane, the sun and moon as well as all of the planets appear to follow this same path across the sky when viewed from our vantage point on Earth’s surface. (PRO TIP: If you ever wonder if the object that you’re looking at is a planet, check to see if it’s on the ecliptic. If it’s not, you’re looking at something else.)
The planet Venus, the lowest of the three right now, is currently so bright that it’s easy to see how it is often mistaken for a UFO! If you’re outside after sunset, I encourage you to look westward and see for yourself. It’s a breath-taking sight and it brings to my mind stories of intrepid explorers and dashing space pirates, of colonies on far-flung worlds and a sense of connectedness in this lonely and vast canvas that we call the universe. It inspires me to compose space operas and stories of black hole jumpers (I actually wrote this one) and vacationers filling the beaches of the best worlds in the galaxy.
So right now it looks like Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter are all fairly close together, and as an extra treat the waxing crescent moon is moving through their midst for the next couple of evenings. But in reality they are millions of miles apart from each other. We take for granted that we can gaze up from our planet’s surface, into the velvety darkness of space, and not only see objects that are vastly separated by distance, but also by time. When we see the light from distant stars we are actually looking backwards in time – those stars might not even still exist in the form that we currently witness them! They may have already progressed to the next stage of their stellar evolution.
It’s paradoxical and it makes me want to write.
What things do you take for granted, but that might not be what they appear?