VLT: Lightning over the observatory.

So, We’re Not Observing Tonight Then?

So, We’re Not Observing Tonight Then?

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Sept. 19 2015 10:00 AM

ObservaThory

Thunderbolts and lightning
Bolt out of the pink. Click to envoltenate.

Photo by ESO/Gerhard Hüdepohl

Sometimes, I just wanna post a cool picture. Like now.

Whoa. That photo was taken in June 2013, when a lightning storm raged over Cerro Paranal in Chile. See those four bumps on the top of that hill? Those are the enclosures of the four sub-units of the Very Large Telescope, each an 8-meter behemoth. A person standing there would be too small to see in this photo.

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But what I really love about this—besides the obvious drama—is over on the left. That patch of clear sky reveals a star barely visible over the mountains’s flank: Procyon, the 8th brightest star in the sky. It’s a relatively old star, a couple of billion years of age, and is actually a binary: a massive, hot star orbited by a small white dwarf, the exhausted core of a star long dead. They’re separated by a couple of billion kilometers, but from our distance of more than 100 trillion kilometers, they appear as a single star by eye.

It’s a reminder to me that there can be much sound and fury, but it’s amplified by being nearby; from a great distance much larger fury can be subdued into a flickering dot.