My renewed interest in astronomy a couple of months ago was sparked when I started listening to some introductory lecutres available freely onine. 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 amatuers 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 then making their journey through our atmosphere and landing directly inside your eye and on to your retina! Super cool!
A part from that amazing experience I got 2 other insights both regard astronomical perspective:
1. When I looked throught the telescope and found Jupiter and saw it very VERY noticably moving across the field of view. I realised 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 objectvely and observe and almost feel it subjectively are 2 totally different animals! I didn’t realise it was that fast! This was a revelation to me! Only at that point did I realise why it took Galileo so long to persuade those very rational sentient beings of the validity of the heliocentric model of the solar system! To Galileo – You are a stubborn brilliant and tenacious man! Rock on in the after life!
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 spot of light. From my earthly perspective their orbital plane formed a 10 o’clock – 4 o’lock line, almost like this back slash \. I also knew that 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 15 or so years but only objectively…NO MORE subjectivity is mine and subjectivity gives perspective and perspective gives insight and that, to me, IS NERD/CEREBRAL JOY! :)
This post was actually inspired from Dr Pamela Gay from starstryder.com ( cohost 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 show the postion 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. I’ve included some screenshots to illustrate.
If you’ve found this post interesting or valuable please leave a comment!