Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Astronomy is book

I'm told that 'book' is a popular term for 'cool' because when you are using predictive text it's the first word that comes out when you press the 2665 key combination. Actually, on my phone it's 'cook', but astronomy is still, in my view 'book', or 'cool'.

Indeed, quite often astronomy is not just cool but freezing. When I was taking the astronomy option in my degree at Keele University in 1969/70, I arrived back from an hour's observing one night literally sneezing from the cold. (Coming down the hill from the observatory, I had been leaping from one knee-high snow drift to another. Who says global warming is all bad?) The other night, I similarly froze in my back garden just to take the above not-terribly-good view of Saturn.

The remarkable thing, though, is that such a picture can be taken at all. Not so many years ago, telescopes were out of the reach of all but those with significant budgets, and astrophotography (as it is called) required sophisticated equipment (or at least, patience with an slr camera).

Today, backyard astronomers are taking truly amazing pictures thanks to home computers and, in many cases, the humble webcam. Mine is at the very bottom end of the market. In fact, it looks like this:

Yes, that really is parcel tap, wrapped round an old 35mm film tube, which fits perfectly into the telescope eye piece. Unfortunately, the 'slewing' control on my telescope is also misbehaving, which meant the image kept jumping across the viewfinder, and that camera only records a tiny image. Yet there it is, Saturn in all its glory. The 'real thing' takes your breath away, even in a small telescope.

My love for astronomy probably owes its beginnings to a combination of Patrick Moore on the Sky at Night in the early fifties and Dan Dare in the Eagle. As such, it is really a 'romantic' attachment. What many people don't realize, though, is the link between the inconceivably big and the unimaginably small. Many of the ideas and theories about the sub-atomic nature of reality derive from, and are tested at, the macro-level where distances and forces are literally 'astronomical'. We, as human beings, thus occupy a doubly-odd position - about halfway between the two in terms of size (this website is a bit slow, but it will show you), yet able to comprehend both to an extraordinary degree.


Revd John P Richardson
9th January 2008

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1 comment:

  1. I think your picture is a great example of what we really see when we look through a telescope. I think the public expects to see a rock steady close up view of planets like they see in magazines, televison, or movies. They even think stars should show a disk when offered a glimpse through the scope. A view through the eyepiece like this gives them a perspective on the scale of creation. As an amateur stargazer, I think you have taken a wonderful picture, and I appreciate the effort.