A tale of two pictures

earthrise
The earth rising over the moon, taken Christmas Eve 1968

Christmas can be a hectic time, office parties, catching up with friends and family, up early for Santa and and days spent visiting and being visited. It can also be a time for reflection.

With that in mind, allow me to present two pictures that give us a unique insight and pause for thought, to contemplate our place in the universe.

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The search for eternal youth

The search for the elixir of life has existed since time immemorial
The search for the elixir of life has existed since time immemorial

Recent reports in the press have highlighted the sad case of a 14 year old girl’s search for immortality and her fight to have her body frozen after her death. Her hope is that medicine will advance enough to allow her to be brought back to life, cancer free at some point in the future.

Ever since time immemorial humans have endeavored to extend our natural life span. In the middle ages, life expectancy was in the order of 40 years. By 1900 you could expect to live to around 59, and today average life expectancy has reached 80 years give or take. The oldest human that ever lived has reached 122 years and the annual rate of mortality amongst any given age bracket e.g. over 80’s continues to fal

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Patterns in the sky

The Pleiadas, M45
The Seven Sisters, a magnificent star cluster and a herald of the fast approaching colder winter nights

Since time immemorial people have looked up at the night sky and tried to make sense of, and understand it. Pinpricks of light twinkling and glittering. Bright stars that seem to form patterns with neighbouring stars. Harvests were made, seeds planted and fields ploughed on the rising and setting of particular patterns. These patterns are what we call constellations. In simpler times, people spent more of their lives outside, were closer to nature, and so it is easy to understand how these stellar patterns held a special significance for cultures all over the world.

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How to spot a galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy. Our galactic neighbour and home to 1000 billion stars. Even though it is 2.5 million light years away, you can see it without binoculars or telescope
The Andromeda Galaxy. Our galactic neighbour and home to 1000 billion stars. Even though it is 2.5 million light years away, you can see it without binoculars or a telescope.

Get out to the country on a clear night and look up and you will be treated to many hundreds and possibly thousands of stars twinkling and shimmering. Our eyes are capable of seeing 6000 stars without optical aid. That’s about 3000 in the northern hemisphere and depending on the amount of light pollution and haze, and the condition of our eyes typically a few hundred to a few thousand stars are visible. Each star is a sun and most have planets around them. Whether they are suitable for life or not is another question.

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