Ring of the Week: The Eagle Has Landed
“Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On a-Jupiter and Mars”
– Frank Sinatra, “Fly Me to the Moon”
This week I had the honour of meeting three legends of the 20th century; astronauts Capt. Neil Armstrong, Capt. Gene Cernan and Capt. Jim Lovell. Neil Armstrong is, of course, the first man to set foot on the moon (Apollo 11), Jim Lovell was the commander of Apollo 13 and Gene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon (Apollo 17).
Right to left: Capt. Gene Cernan, Capt. Neil Armstrong and Capt. Jim Lovell
The astronauts were talking on behalf of the Foundation for Science and Technology at the Royal Society and Cernan and Lovell both spoke of their disappointment at the US plans to abandon the “Constellation” programme which aimed to put astronauts back on the moon by 2020. Cernan said that, walking on the moon in 1972, he never would have imagined that he would still be the last man to set foot on the moon’s suface over 37 years later. The astronauts also talked of their hope that they would be alive to see man set foot on Mars.
Politics aside, it was fascinating to hear the astronauts speak about their experiences. All of the astronauts agreed that travelling to the moon changed their perspective of life on Earth. Cernan said it was staring out of the window into the black “infinity of space”, whereas Lovell said it was looking back from the moon and “being able to cover the entire World with my thumb” that was the most life changing moment.
My Ring of the Week this week is Galaxy Zoo image 587741708326863123 and is in honour of Neil Armstrong and his lunar module, the Eagle. You can see the ring on the bottom right of the image and an unusual, bird-shaped “Eagle” galaxy on the top left. The “Eagle” galaxy is at the same redshift as the ring and so at the same distance away from us. This means that the two galaxies are most likely interacting in some way.
It could be that the “Eagle” is a polar ring (see last week’s post), where stars have been gravitationally stripped from the larger ring galaxy to rotate around the poles of the smaller galaxy. Or perhaps this is a collisional ring system, the “Eagle” having crashed through the centre of the larger galaxy to create the blue ring of stars that we see on the bottom right of the image. At the moment I’m not quite sure exactly which option (if either!) is the right one so feel free to post your own ideas about what you think may be happening and I’ll let you know if I figure it out!