Monday, January 25, 2010

Views From the Hubble Telescope

Late January is just the right time to buy a new calendar, I figure. The discount is steep but you still have a little more than eleven months' usage of the thing. I had that in mind on Saturday before noon when I found myself at a calendar kiosk at the Woodfield Mall.

I needed a calendar for my little office at home. Each calendar at the kiosk was $4, which is a next-stop-landfill price. The one I finally bought has a MSRP of $13.99/Can$16.99/£9.99, including VAT for that last one. Seems like the Canadians are getting the short end of that stick; I did a quick conversion at the useful and the loonie is stronger than that ($13.99 = Can$14.80).

Lots of calendars were on the racks, but few showed much imagination. The usual suspects include dogs, cats, lighthouses, sports stars, young women in small swimsuits, celebrities du jour, classic cars, and so on. Tucked away toward the bottom of one rack was "Space: Views from the Hubble Telescope," published by Pomegranate Communications of Petaluma, Calif., and Scientific American. That looked promising.

So promising that I now have it on my wall. The photos are as picturesque as you'd expect, clear and colorful shots of impossibly distant places with hybrid poetic-catalog names: Spiral Galaxy M71, Giant Nebula NGC 3603, Galaxy Cluster Abell S0740, just to name three illustrations .

Even better, there's more than the run-of-the-mill text on the calendar itself. U.S., U.K. and Canadian holidays are all represented, as well as the phases of the moon and the solstices and equinoxes, but so are birthdays and death anniversaries of an assortment of astronauts, astronomers, cosmologists and others.

The anniversary of certain launches toward space or encounters with other worlds are noted too -- and not just the ones you might think. Robert Goddard's first liquid-fueled rocket launch on April 16, 1926 rates a mention; so does Valentina Tereshkova's ride into space on June 16, 1963; and so does the French launch of its first satellite on November 26, 1963, the A-1 Astérix. And what was the next French launch? The Obelix?

The 20th anniversary of the launching of the Hubble telescope is duly noted on April 24. That also happens to be the day in 1970 that China -- Red China in those days -- launched its first satellite, Dongfanghong I, which transmitted the song of that name -- "The East is Red," to give its English title. Those were the days. Nowadays Chinese satellites probably transmit newer songs, such as "The East Has a Trade Surplus."

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