Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sic Transit Atlantis

There’s always fun to be had from seeing grubby little politicians squirming in embarrassment after getting caught with their snouts pushed deep in the expenses trough. But after a week where the newspaper revelations snowballed out of control, by Saturday most readers were in need of a respite.

Before fatigue set in, and along with it the danger that after such relentless condemnation we might start to unwittingly feel a tiniest bit of sympathy for those irksome weevils, yesterday The Times decided to provide us with the breathing space. Yesterday they printed this astonishing photograph on its front page.

Taken earlier in the week, it shows the space shuttle Atlantis seen in solar transit as it heads to its rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope. As well as repairing failed and faulty components, the crew of STS-125 will install new and improved cameras and scientific equipment.

Amongst them are the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, which will observe light emitted by extremely faint, far away quasars and see how it changes when passing through the gases between distant galaxies, and the new Wide Field Camera 3. Complementing Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, the WFC3 with its ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths will allow the telescope to help produce, according to Hubble’s senior scientist Dave Leckrone, “a complete family album of the universe.”

As entertaining as it is to see snapshots of disgraceful members of the House of Common Criminals wriggling on the hook, Hubble will show was insignificant specks they really are.


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