Reproduced in Full Moon by Michael Light. It basically just collects a load of NASA photos from the Apollo missions with little or no commentary, but the cumulative visual effect (of desolate strangeness, for the most part, as one might expect) makes the book worth checking out.
“Awesome” is one of those words that’s become so stretched out, abused and misapplied that it’s become almost useless. The features of a new smart phone are not awesome. It’s not awesome that somebody remembered how you like your coffee. Even the Queen’s house is not awesome, and yours certainly isn’t. “Artist”, “curated” and “essential” are akin to it in terms of being useful, necessary words that are rapidly being emptied of all meaning. They’re turning into reflexive lexical burps, semiotic zombies that shamble on through the language mainly because they’re only dimly aware that they’re already dead. “The artist’s minimalist re-interpretations of Star Wars characters are now available as prints on her website”, “their boutique in Chelsea features an immaculately curated selection of high-end fashion brands”, “this season’s essential new heels”; they’re all profoundly wrong– and lazy– usages that turn our language into a barrage of empty marketing messages instead of a means of discourse for balanced human beings who connect with our world and with each other in ways that might enable us to truly feel that combination of fear, admiration, beauty, incomprehension, and amazement that used to be known as awe. Or that might enable more of us to recognise that a real artist is the conduit for a much more profound and ineffable transformation of her or his source materials (including other peoples’ previous work) than most smirking pasticheurs or hipster superfans can even imagine, and that to be a curator means at root to take care, to respond and maintain and nurture, not to intervene or impose one’s own values or whims.
Let me show you something that is truly awesome, something that makes me afraid of my smallness in the universe and staggered at the infinite beauty and incomprehensible majesty of all the things that are going on in that universe right now while we carry on our silly little lives, mostly blind and oblivious, on one tiny planet that’s a mere speck even within our own solar system. It fills me with joy and terror.
On the 31st of August 2012, a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) erupted from the surface of our sun, and this real image of it was captured by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre (more / larger images at the link, both images reproduced here CC licensed by NASA). What you’re seeing here is a vast chunk of helium plasma from the sun’s atmosphere, heated by nuclear fusion and sculpted by immense magnetic fields. How vast?
There are at least 200 billion stars in our galaxy alone, of which our sun is a relatively unremarkable example as stars go. It is 1.39 million km in diameter, with an estimated energy output of 385 million billion gigawatts. Its surface temperature is 5,505°C. It is about 4.6 billion years old. Please don’t ever use the word “awesome” about anything less mind-blowing than this picture and its implications.
Update: I found a video of the CME. You’ll probably want to mute the music, which sounds like the bed for a banal corporate video montage of warehouse workers stacking boxes. The video is more compiled than edited. Seriously, NASA, employ a professional editor; there’s no shortage of them. But that aside, worth a watch… especially if you constantly bear in mind the size of the Earth as shown above.
(but outer space doesn’t smell like Ipswich)
It’s hard to tell what– if anything– ever came of it, but I stumbled across a late 2008 interview with olfactory chemist Steve Pearce about a request from NASA to artificially recreate the smell of space, so as to increase the realism of their astronaut training and simulation.
“When astronauts come in from a spacewalk and remove their helmets, they’ve reported smells of “seared steak,” “hot metal” and “arc welding on their motorbike.” These are all consistent descriptions, not flukes. That lead us to conclude that the sensation is caused by some high-energy vibrations in particles brought back inside which mix with the air. And that product is then presented to the astronaut as they breathe it in. Why NASA wants it? If we can reproduce that odor, it would be useful in adding realism to the training here on Earth.”
Since I’m from Suffolk, I was tickled by the additional little detail that this NASA-sanctioned research into sniffing space was taking place in Ipswich. For those in the vanishingly small demographic of people who don’t know and actually care, Ipswich is a fairly large town with very small ambitions in the eastern part of England, to the north of London. There are some nice things about it, but most visitors are perhaps understandably wont to comment upon its grave errors of urban planning, disastrous transportation, woeful infrastructure, its general state of dilapidation, its filthy knocking shops and its charming contingent of drug addicts and/or aggressively, wilfully and permanently unemployed people, and last but not least its distressingly large population of individuals who should be under proper psychiatric care and on their meds but are evidently not receiving any type of care whatsoever. Ipswich’s main claim to fame in recent years was having its very own serial killer of prostitutes. Technically Pearce’s company is based on an industrial estate north of Ipswich, but it’s still adjacent to one of of Suffolk’s picturesque landfill sites, just in case you were starting to have visions of John Constable’s and Thomas Gainsborough’s paintings which are unbelievably of the same general area. There’s progress for you. Continue Reading