Monday, October 26, 2009

History, From Above

ISS Above Ionian Sea
This image from Astronomy Picture of the Day - see it here in magnificent full size - gives a whole new meaning to 'overview of history.' Seen from the Shuttle Endeavor, the International Space Station passes above Sicily and heads east over the Ionian Sea, with the instep and heel of the Italian boot seen just to its left.

The Ionian Islands are the group above and to the right of the ISS, just off the coast of Greece. One of them is Odysseus' Ithaca (though it is uncertain whether his home was the same as modern Thiaki). The site of Troy is also hazily visible, straight up from the Ionian Islands about two thirds of the way to the limb of the Earth. The ISS will cover this distance in about 100 seconds, some three million times faster than Odysseus' trip home.

History's three greatest galley battles all took place within this field of view. Salamis (480 BC) is only hazily visible on the Aegean coast of Greece, but Actium (33 BC) was fought just off the lagoon to the left of the Ionian Islands, and Lepanto (1571) in the gulf just behind them.

In fact these waters are the Belgium of Mediterranean naval history: A disproportionate number of seafights have taken place here over the centuries, from Corcyra, the opening round of the Pelopponesian War in 31 BC, to Navarino (1827), the last fleet battle under sail, and Cape Matapan (1941). Also visible here is Taranto, Italy, where the British staged the first successful air raid against an anchored fleet more than a year before Pearl Harbor.

And in the time it has taken you to read this, the ISS will already be far to the east, gliding across the skies above the Silk Road.


Anonymous said...

This give a new meaning to the old term "flying through history"...


Anita said...

And some 2500 years ago people down on those islands began thinking about rational explanations for natural phenomenon -- the first steps toward the scientific method. The ISS is flying over its birthplace.

Rick said...

Ferrell - It's definitely a fast review, so to speak!

Anita - Yes. Many cultures made careful observations of the heavens, but so far as I can tell, no other civilization asked questions like 'What is the sky made of?' or 'How high is it?'

Those questions lead, eventually, to going there to find out firsthand.