Thursday, 4 March 2010

Stellar Scintillation

Nasa Sun through Earth's Atmosphere

If you were in space looking out in to the vastness of the galaxy, you wouldn't see the stars twinkle. They only dance for us, here on Earth.

Our turbulent atmosphere is made up of pockets of air with differing densities. As starlight travels its last 100 km before reaching us, it refracts many times across the boundaries between these pockets. The resulting interference changes each star's position and brightness in our vision, causing them to twinkle.

I've always found looking up in to the night sky a dwarfing experience. Contemplating the sheer size of our universe, and the bodies that move in it, is humbling. Everything else is scaled down as I try to grasp its infinite boundaries. I find it meditative; everyday problems are squashed in to obscurity.

If you view the front page of in a Flash enabled browser, you'll see a star field. A new one is generated for you each time you visit, always unique. The stars will twinkle gently, and if you let your eyes relax, you'll see a light show ripple across the field. It's your own personal night sky to enjoy, for as long as you choose to watch.

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