Mud turned to ice under our feet last night as the temperature dropped to 20 F. I spoke before a group of naturalists at the Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center north of Duluth. After the talk we walked outside and set up a telescope in a parking lot for a tour the spring sky. Our shoes sank in the soft ground at first, but by session’s end, the puddles had solidified into icy patches. We soon were sliding to the telescope as each took their turn at the eyepiece.
Water is the most important chemical to life and can be found in all three of its states – solid, liquid and gas – simultaneously on Earth. Since life depends on water, ours is the most suitable world we know of where it can thrive.
Our group had a joyful time looking at Saturn, always a rave-getter, double stars, galaxies and little bit of everything in the universe.
I kept thinking about that water, though. How many planets around the thousands of stars we saw might be fortunate enough to have the H2O so necessary for life? With the number of known extrasolar planets now at 539 and counting, I’m confident we’ll find one like Earth within our lifetimes, another blue planet in the Goldilocks zone , where liquid water can set up shop, flow where it may and serve as a medium for an extraterrestrial evolution of life.
Today the first images taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around Mercury are being released. The approximately one-year mission will focus on a creating a detailed map of the entire planet in addition to studying its topography, crustal minerals, magnetic field and more.
It gives me a little thrill that the first image sent back by the probe included the striking crater Debussy, named after Claude Debussy, one of my favorite composers. His atmospheric and impressionistic music stands in stark contrast to the rough-edged, cratered landscape of the solar system’s innermost planet.
According to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature, craters on Mercury are named after deceased artists, musicians and authors who have been significant figures for more than 50 years. Mountains are named for the word “hot” in various languages and valleys for radio telescope facilities. To learn how other features of the moons and planets of the solar system get their names, click on over the Group’s planetary names page.
Above are two additional images taken by MESSENGER from orbit released this afternoon. To see more, please click HERE.