12 December 2012
THE YEAR IN SPACE
The Washington Post has published a slide show of 32 breath-taking images taken by space probes, satellites, telescopes, and the Mars rover Curiosity. Each image is accompanied by a caption explaining its significance. It is, of course, impossible to single out any one picture as the best, but I did find image #32 (above, click to enlarge) to be the most compelling. Taken on August 31, 2012, it shows "a filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun's atmosphere erupting into space. The coronal mass ejection traveled at more than 900 miles per second."
Note the representation of Earth in the lower left corner, included to give the viewer an idea of the titanic scale of the sun and the ejection. In reality, of course, the Earth orbits 93 million miles away, and is in no danger until the sun's life cycle enters a red giant phase. During this time the sun's radius will expand to 250 times its current size, engulfing Earth. Not to worry, we have roughly 10 billion years to prepare, hopefully by colonizing other worlds. (Unless we manage to ruin life on our own world first.)