My renewed interest in astronomy a couple of months ago was sparked when I started listening to some introductory lectures available freely online. I then found out about the public lectures given at the South African Astronomical Observatory. These are given to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy which marks 400 years since Galileo look through a telescope at the stars. After attending the lecture, the local amateurs setup their telescopes and let the assembled masses look at some obvious targets ie. Alpha Centauri, The Jewel Box, Jupiter.
Up until that time I had never seen through a telescope! To say it was special was an understatement! I’m sure most of us have seen these amazing pictures from Nasa and Hubble of the various planets, moons, and nebula BUT there is nothing quite like seeing it “in the flesh” and knowing that the very photons bouncing back from Jupiter or shining from unimaginable distances are first arriving at earth and then making their journey through our atmosphere and landing directly inside your eye and on to your retina! Very cool indeed!
Apart from that amazing experience, I had 2 other insights, both regarding an astronomical perspective:
1. When I looked through the telescope and found Jupiter and saw it moving across the field of view very noticeably! I realized that it was caused by the earth revolving! OOOOH wowww amazing…as if we all didn’t know that from Junior School! But to know something objectively compared to almost feeling it subjectively are 2 totally different animals! I didn’t realize it was that fast! This was a revelation to me! Only at that point did I realize why it took Galileo so long to persuade those very rational sentient beings of the validity of the heliocentric model of the solar system!
2. The telescope I looked through also showed Jupiter’s 4 Galilean moons (Io, Europa, Callisto, Ganymede) in a perfect line, 2 on either side of Jupiter as 4 brilliant spots of light. From my earthly perspective, their orbital plane formed a 10 o’clock – 4 o’clock line, almost like this backslash. I also knew that the plane of their ecliptic is the same as all the planets in our solar system! It really put things into perspective: I was standing on the bottom half of a sphere at some crazy angle! We’ve known this for centuries and I’ve known this for many years but only objectively! With this subjectivity comes perspective and perspective gives insight and that, to me, is the best kind of cerebral joy!
This post was actually inspired by Dr. Pamela Gay from starstryder.com ( co-host of astronomycast.com – it’s a part of my astronomy resources post). Her post title is Your Place in Space. She reviews a cool piece of software called “Where is M13?” ( M13 is the 13th object in the Messier Catalog of deep-space objects)
I downloaded it and it’s a very cute piece of software. It simply shows the relative positions, in 3d space, of various stars, clusters, galaxies, and nebula. But it also shows the position of these objects in the sky as viewed from earth. With these 2 views available you can get a very good Idea of your position in space.