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space

Our home, from space.

Sixty-one years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to make it into space and probably the first to experience what scientists now call the "overview effect." This change occurs when people see the world from far above and notice that it’s a place where “borders are invisible, where racial, religious and economic strife are nowhere to be seen.”

The overview effect makes man’s squabbles with one another seem incredibly petty and presents the planet as it truly is, one interconnected organism.


In a compelling interview with Big Think, astronaut, author and humanitarian Ron Garan explains how if more of us developed this planetary perspective we could fix much of what ails humanity and the planet.

Garan has spent 178 days in space and traveled more than 71 million miles in 2,842 orbits. From high above, he realized that the planet is a lot more fragile than he thought.

“When I looked out the window of the International Space Station, I saw the paparazzi-like flashes of lightning storms, I saw dancing curtains of auroras that seemed so close it was as if we could reach out and touch them. And I saw the unbelievable thinness of our planet's atmosphere. In that moment, I was hit with the sobering realization that that paper-thin layer keeps every living thing on our planet alive,” Garan said in the video.

“I saw an iridescent biosphere teeming with life,” he continues. “I didn't see the economy. But since our human-made systems treat everything, including the very life-support systems of our planet, as the wholly owned subsidiary of the global economy, it's obvious from the vantage point of space that we're living a lie.”

It was at that moment he realized that humanity needs to reevaluate its priorities.

“We need to move from thinking economy, society, planet to planet, society, economy. That's when we're going to continue our evolutionary process,” he added.

Garan says that we are paying a very “high price” as a civilization for our inability to develop a more planetary perspective and that it’s a big reason why we’re failing to solve many of our problems. Even though our economic activity may improve quality of life on one end, it’s also disasterous for the planet that sustains our lives.

It’s like cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Actor William Shatner had a similar experience to Garan's when he traveled into space.

"It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered," Shatner wrote. "The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna … things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind."

“We're not going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality,” Garan said.

However dire the situation looks from the surface of Earth, the astronaut has hope that we can collectively evolve in consciousness and wake up and embrace a larger reality. “And when we can evolve beyond a two-dimensional us versus them mindset, and embrace the true multi-dimensional reality of the universe that we live in, that's when we're going to no longer be floating in darkness … and it's a future that we would all want to be a part of. That's our true calling.”


This article originally appeared on 12.16.22

Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

Houston, no problems. Just chillin'.

Matt Payne, of Kent, England, and his 8-year-old daughter Isabella Payne share two distinct passions—outer space and amateur radio.

On Aug. 8, the daddy-daughter duo got to combine the two interests. The result was, dare I say, out of this world.


girl calls nasa, ham radio issIsabella, seen in space.Twitter

Using Matt’s ham radio, under the station name M0LMK, Isabella was able to place a call to another amateur radio station … one that just so happened to be onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Talk about a long-distance call.

On the other end of the line was astronaut Kjell Lindgren, commander of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4, who was more than happy to chat.

Matt posted a short audio clip of their sweet exchange on Twitter, where Isabella nails sounding out call signs before introducing herself.

"November, Alpha, One, Sierra, Sierra. Mike, Zero, Lima, Mike, Kilo … My name's Isabella, I'm 8 years old," the precocious young girl says confidently to Lindgren.

The astronaut, clearly charmed, answers back “Isabella, it's so great to chat with you, thank you for getting on the radio and saying hello," before signing off.

Matt later thanked Commander Lindgren, saying that “you have changed her world.”

He revealed that when Isabella was just 2 years old, she watched students speak with world-renowned astronaut Tim Peake. Since then she had wanted to have her own conversation with a space explorer.

“Today, she got her chance,” Matt wrote.

Lindgren replied saying that he’s had a “lot of fun” talking with other ham radios worldwide, but that his interaction with Isabella “may be my favorite contact so far.”

In an interview with NPR, Matt described how reaching Lindgren had been a result of meticulous timing with a dash of luck.

“First off, you need an astronaut that is in their own time choosing to use that equipment to talk to us operators down here on Earth. As well as that, you need to have the space station within a visual line of sight,” he explained.

Luckily, the planets aligned accordingly.

In the same interview, Isabella shared that her dream is to become a communications specialist at the Mission Control Center, mostly so she can “say stuff like - hello, is everything still floating around? And are you enjoying your food?” Clearly, she’s a natural and well on her way.

The ISS seems to be regularly making random contacts with hams all over the world, so if you’ve ever toyed with the idea of reaching out to space yourself, now’s your chance. Matt hopes that NASA schedules special times for the ISS to have similar conversations with other children, “since it brings so much joy and inspiration.”

There are so many amazing hobbies out there, but amateur radio takes the possibilities, as another beloved space traveler would say, ”to infinity and beyond.”

Webb telescope images come with wonderfully detailed alt text descriptions.

When the first images of space came back from the high-powered James Webb Space Telescope on July 12, 2022, it felt like the whole world stopped for a moment to marvel. Never before have we seen such an intricate look at what's out there, and the detail was stunning. Since then, we've seen a steady stream of visual wonders far beyond our solar system, delighting our eyes and tickling our imaginations.

But what about those who aren't able to see them? Do people who are visually impaired simply miss out on the joy of "seeing" these gorgeous glimpses of our universe?

Nope. NASA has made sure that these images are accessible to all and has done a stellar job of it. The alt text descriptions of the Webb telescope images are truly wonderful, giving not only visual descriptions but additional details that all of us can benefit from.


For instance, here's a recent alt text description from one of the Webb telescope images:

"A dramatic blade made of red gaseous wisps comes down top-to-bottom in the center of the image as smaller green wisps feather out in horizontal directions. A bright star shrouded in blue light is near the center of the bow-like blade. Blue dots in different sizes dot the background of the image, signifying neighboring stars."⁣

And here's the image it's describing:

Or check out this image of the Cartwheel Galaxy and the way the alt text describes it.

"Image Description: A large galaxy on the right, with two much smaller companion galaxies to the left at 10 o’clock and 9 o’clock. The large galaxy resembles a speckled wheel, with an oval outer ring and a small, off-center inner ring. The outer ring contains pink plumes like wheel spokes, with dusty blue regions in between. The pink areas are silicate dust, while the blue areas are pockets of young stars and hydrocarbon dust. The inner ring is smoother, filled in with a more uniform pale pink. This smaller ring is interwoven with thin, orange-pink threads. On the galaxy's right edge, a bright white star with 8 diffraction spikes shines. The two companion galaxies to the left, one above the other, are about the same size and both spiral galaxies. The galaxy above is a reverse S shape but similar in coloring and texture as the large ring galaxy. The galaxy below is smoother and largely white, with a blue tinge. The background is black and full of more distant, orange-red colored galaxies of various sizes."

Alt text is often brief and concise, offering enough description to get a general idea of what an image is but not a ton of detail. Such brevity is helpful in certain contexts, but not when you're describing awe-inspiring pictures of the deep universe.

According to an article by Theresa Vargas in The Washington Post, the descriptions come from a team of writers, designers, educators and scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

“It’s been really heartening to see how much this has touched people,” Tim Rhue II, principal informal education specialist at the institute, told the Post. “It’s something that’s deeply personal to so many people. On top of that, we do it because we want to make astronomy accessible to everyone. It’s astronomy and dinosaurs that are gateways to science for so many people.”

In an interview with NPR, Rhue described creating the alt text descriptions as "a labor of love."

"Space is for everyone," he said. "It shouldn't matter who you are."

NASA's alt text descriptions not only make the images accessible to everyone, but they make the science of the images more accessible for everyone. Even those without visual impairments can appreciate reading the scientific detail of what makes certain colors or shapes in the images. The team at the Space Telescope Science Institute goes out of its way to include lots of detail, going beyond simple surface descriptions. It matters, and it's being noticed by people of all abilities.

Thank you, NASA, for illustrating the fact that when we embrace greater accessibility, we all win.

Two celestial events collided last night and people around the world did their best to capture the cool phenomena on film.

The "super flower blood moon" was one of the few supermoons this year, when the moon appears to be much larger and brighter in the sky due to its position closer to Earth. The "flower" part of the moniker is simply because it's a full moon happening in the month of May. The "blood" part comes from the reddish hue cast over the moon due to a total lunar eclipse that happened to coincide with the supermoon. (The total eclipse was only visible in some regions, including the Western U.S.)

In other words, the moon was a huge red ball in the sky last night, creating a natural show for us earthlings.

If you missed it in real life, these photos of the super flower blood moon are the next best thing.


A few clouds couldn't completely cover the glowing orange moon over Stonehenge in the U.K.

Stargazers of Hawaii captured a tri-tone moon that looks positively otherworldly. The reddish tint is caused by sunlight filtering through the earth's atmosphere during the eclipse, according to NASA.

Ankara, Turkey didn't get the blood part of the supermoon, but it was still stunning.

The Statue of Liberty got quite a show in New York.

If that's not cool enough, NPR shared a time-lapse video of the supermoon setting over Lady Liberty.

Joshua Tree National Park enjoyed its moon blended with an ethereal sunset or sunrise.

Sometimes a camera lens can capture things that the naked eye cannot. Astrophotographers with the right equipment and skills can give us a glimpse of what's really out there—celestial beauty blocked by light pollution and the limitations of our own visual abilities.

The photographer who created this image, Kaleb Johnston, said on Twitter that it was a composite taken with two exposures, one to highlight the Milky Way and the other to highlight the details of the moon.

(Here's the moon-focused shot with a bit of an explanation for why he was able to get such a great capture of it in New Zealand.)

Absolutely incredible.

So many cool photos of the same moon from around the world.

While supermoons aren't all that rare and lunar eclipses aren't that rare, the two happening at the same time is something special. With all of the challenges facing humanity, the fact that we can—and do—all marvel together when nature puts on a sky show for us is a cosmic reminder of how connected we really are.