Tuesday, August 20, 2013
As the World Turns
It's a dizzying thought, but the solid ground beneath our feet is moving at great speeds through space. For example, our planet turns once a day. Every 24 hours, the place where you live on the surface of the Earth goes in a big circle around the center of our planet. In the San Francisco Bay Area, this motion happens at a speed of about 818 mph. (Children, you can do this without adult supervision, because gravity holds all of us firmly to the Earth's surface.)
Our planet turns around an imaginary stick that goes from the Earth's north pole through its south pole. We call the line of that imaginary stick the Earth's "axis." As our planet turns around its axis, the Sun appears to rise in the East and set in the West and we have day and night. At night, as we turn, we see everything in space slowly turning around us. But we know the Sun during the day and the stars at night are not really turning. They sit in space and mind their own business. The motions we see in the sky hour by hour just reflect the turning of planet Earth. Do you want to see this motion displayed?
On the magnificent photo I have attached to this little posting, you can actually see the turning of the stars (around the still point of the north pole of the sky). Master photographer Phil McGrew captured the turning of the sky above the Golden Gate Bridge. I was so enchanted with this photo, I asked him to give me permission to share it with all of you. You can see more of his photos at his web site: http://www.philmcgrew.com/
The photo is actually made up of more than 180 20-second exposures, skillfully added together. Instead of being a point, each star becomes a curved line as the Earth turns with the camera and photographer attached to it. Astronomers call the curved lines "star trails."
Can you think of other ways that you are moving even while sitting still in your favorite armchair? We'll discuss these other motions in future posts.