8 September 2009

The big sky

Auroras have been seen as omens as battle... In Norway the [northern] lights were once interpreted as the souls of dead maidens. The Inuit reckoned them to be caused by a game of celestial football played with the skull of a walrus. Near Yellowknife in subarctic Canada I met people from the Dene tribe. They told me the aurora was the dancing spirits of very special ancestors, ones that moved on from human life first to become animal spirits, then to dance in the northern lights. To the Finns the aurora is Reventule [?], the Firefox, the sparkles of light caused when the fox touches objects as it runs.
-- from My Northern Lights by Kenny Taylor, BBC Radio 3.

Taylor says he can think of no other spectacle observable with naked eye that is so huge. True enough.

Even stranger things lie just beyond the edge of the 'normally' visible. I was awed to learn a couple of days ago that, were our eyes sensitive enough to pick up all the light it sends our way, the Andromeda galaxy would appear eight times as wide as the moon.

And objects may be larger than they appear in a 'mirror' (telescope). The Carina nebula for example is about 500 trillion kilometres across.

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