Observatory remains busy with happenings

Greetings and welcome to March, a month named for the planet/deity Mars and the first month in early versions of the Roman calendar where spring heralded the start of a new year.

Four hundred years ago, the invention of the telescope allowed humanity to finally resolve those nomadic points of light in the night sky that had captured our imagination since the dawn of time.

In doing so, Earth was displaced from its central place in the universe to join the myriad of worlds orbiting the local star.

It wasn’t until the space age, however, that we were able to dispatch emissaries to these fellow travelers and, perhaps more important, gaze upon our own world from afar.

The Apollo missions 50 years ago revealed Earth as another “spaceship,” with all the life support systems needed to sustain billions of hominids, while traveling through the vacuum of space at 67,000 miles per hour around the sun.

Thirty years ago, the camera on the Voyager 1 spacecraft took a snapshot of the inner solar system from a distance of almost 4 billion miles.

Earth, its home world, filled less than a pixel in the photo - a fragile, pale blue mote, easily overlooked.

The solar system may seem crowded in textbooks and in the cinema where imaginary spaceships dodge asteroids as plentiful as cars on a LA freeway, but in reality, space is empty, dark and cold with sanctuaries few and far between, for even the most primitive lifeforms.

In April, we celebrate Earth Day.

By any measure, we have been poor stewards of our home planet.

In the future, there will be outposts and possibly settlements on the moon and Mars, for humanity to take refuge, but they will likely be underground as these alien worlds are bathed in radiation.

Earth is the only world in our solar system that we can freely walk upon its surface, feel the wind upon our skin, and enjoy the sun’s warmth - something to consider in this season of renewal.

Our next Second Saturday Stars program had been scheduled for March 14 but has been canceled.

Bill Cloutier is a volunteer with the John J. McCarthy Observatory in New Milford.