Monday, 3 October 2011

There is only one astronomy joke ...

And here it is.

The seventh planet from the Sun is the rather-unfortunately named Uranus. Some pronounce it You're-ranus. Others say Oor-anus, which is technically correct, but schoolboys (or those with a schoolboy sense of humour) delight in the question, "Can you see Uranus through a telescope?"

The answer, oddly enough, is yes - it is the blue dot above, taken through my telescope in the back garden the other night. Indeed, on a good night you can see it with the naked eye, though it was not identified as anything other than a star until 1781, when William Herschel first claimed it as a comet.

There is something awe-inspiring about knowing that this blue dot is orbiting the Sun at an average distance of 1,790,000,000 miles and takes 84 years to go once round its orbit.

There's a good close-up picture of Uranus here. Uranus has a thick atmosphere and a small rocky and icy interior. Oddly enough, it rotates sideways on to the Sun, like a ball going round a roulette wheel. It has a system of rings, visible in the fly-by photos of Voyager 2, and 27 known moons.

If you want to see another awe-inspiring pale blue dot, try this one, which is the Earth seen from beyond Uranus, taken by Voyager 1.

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  1. Fascinating. That must be some telescope you have John, to say nothing of the camera.
    Is astronomy just a hobby or was it a part of your pre-ministry life?

  2. Hi Ray. Actually, the telescope is really not that fancy - a second-hand Meade ETX-105, which is a little over 4" in aperture. The optics are very good, but if I were starting again I'd spend out more on the mount and buy a telescope to match that. The inside of a Meade looks like a Swiss music box - the motors are tiny and a bit 'tinny' and when mine was serviced by Telescope House in Tunbridge Wells, the bloke there said they'd even got the wrong screws in one part. (Not that I can really blame Meade for that - who knows how it happened?).

    The camera is even more surprising - a Phillips SPC900 webcam with the lens prised out and an attachment to drop it into the eyepiece mount on the camera.

    The Phillips is a bit of a rarity these days as it uses a CCD chip which is more sensitive than the usual chips in these things. They've now stopped making them but it wasn't expensive at the time.

    I studied astronomy for a year at Uni as a course option, and have kept up an interest since early childhood.

  3. I always think back to Patrick Moore and the day when the question, "Patrick, do you think there's life on Uranas?"

    The most esteemed chap replied, "That might be the reason I have always fidgeted so!"

    Of course he gava a fuller and more reasoned response once the laughter had subsided - a sublime English eccentric gentleman indeed.

    My ETX (4") has developed a fault and can't find time to lug LX out to garden and play - so back to bino's at the moment, but what great skies of late!


  4. That's brilliant, Vic. Btw, if you're near enough, Telescope House do an excellent (in my view) service package on Meades, which would probably sort out your problem. Just wish I had an LX! I see they are now in Surrey: RH7 6BA

    You're right about binoculars, though as I have a persistent hand tremor I have to mount mine on a tripod - not a bad idea anyway.

    Sometimes just a quick 'browse' of the skies is enough.

  5. You need to take a look at this..

    You have to be over a certain age to remember it.

    Chris Bishop

  6. I used to LOVE space patrol - especially the funny noise the space ships used to make.