Copernican shifts and First Orbit

When Galileo first gazed onto the surface of the moon through a telescope, he achieved a shift in humankind’s sense of itself. Ours was not the only world in the cosmos. The moon was earthlike too, with mountains and valleys. In ‘The Sidereal Messenger’, he commended his readers to the ‘great and marvelous sights’. It’s an experience easy to replicate these days: through even a moderately powered telescope you can traverse our neighbour’s world of grays and relive the moment.

When Yuri Gagarin first orbited the earth, 50 years ago this week, he achieved another shift in humankind’s sense of itself. Only it’s not an experience many can share. So it was great to learn of Christopher Riley’s film, First Orbit, which recreates what Gagarin saw. It offers another wonderfully meditative cosmological experience.