Well now, here’s a story you don’t hear every day: a telescope in Carefree, AZ may have caused a fire that burned part of a house. KNXV TV in Phoenix carried the story. I have comments below.
My first reaction was, "No way." Then I looked into this more, and now I think the ‘scope may have indeed been the culprit.
The telescope is a design called a Schmidt-Cassegrain, or just SCT. I have one myself! It’s a tube with a big mirror (called the primary) in the back that’s curved. It reflects light back up the tube. At the top of the tube is a flat piece of glass (called a corrector plate) with a smaller mirror embedded in the middle. This reflects the light again down toward the bottom of tube, where it passes through the hole in the big mirror and into an eyepiece (and from there into your eye or camera). The inset diagram here shows how this works; click to newtonianate.
I called the Carefree fire department, and talked to Colin Williams, their Press Information Officer. He was very helpful, and told me more of what happened. Read More
Duncan Kitchin is an amateur astronomer in Oregon. Like many of us, he has a telescope that’s kind of a pain lugging outside (my old ‘scope was the same size and shape as a water heater, leading to much hilarity as it sat in the living room). Duncan got tired of dragging it out when it was clear, then hauling back inside when the observing was done.
What’s a guy to do?
Well, if you’re an astronomer and a Doctor Who fan, the solution is obvious: pour a concrete pad, install the permanent mount for the ‘scope, and then make yourself a protective shell around the whole thing… shaped like the TARDIS!
FanTAStic. How flippin’ cool is this? It’s an excellent replica, and it’s functional (hmmmm). The side with the handles comes off, revealing the mount; the rest of the TARDIS is on wheels and can be rolled back, leaving just the ‘scope itself to bring out and install:
That makes for a much easier night of observing. Duncan notes it’s designed to keep water out. I hope it keeps water in as well, in case of any mishaps with the Doctor’s pool.
I want one of these (and that telescope, a very yummy Takahashi FSQ-106ED) SO BAD! And Who wouldn’t? After all, it may look small on the outside, but it has access to the whole Universe on the inside.
Images courtesy of Duncan Kitchin.
Four hundred years ago tonight, a man from Pisa, Italy took a newly-made telescope with a magnifying power of 33X, pointed it at one of the brighter lights in the sky, and changed mankind forever.
The man, of course, was Galileo, and the light he observed on January 7, 1610 was Jupiter. He spotted "three fixed stars" that were invisible to the eye near the planet, and a fourth a few days later.
Here is how he drew this, 400 years ago:
He noted the stars moved around Jupiter as they followed it across the sky, and so was the first to figure out that other planets had moons like our own. It wasn’t an easy observation; his telescope was still small, the field of view narrow (so not all the moons were visible at the same time), and the moons faint next to Jupiter’s brilliant glare. But Galileo persisted, and figured it out. We call these four the Galilean moons in his honor: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.
Here’s how we see them today:
The image above [click to embiggen] is from the New Horizons spacecraft as it shot past Jupiter in early 2007, showing all four moons. Each is scaled to show its true relative size to the others. It’s impossible not to wonder what Galileo would have thought, knowing that just shy of 400 years after he made his first observations, we would fling our robotic proxies out into the solar system and get close up views of the objects he discovered.
Think of it! For all of time before, Jupiter was just a light in the sky. And then, forever after that night forty decades ago, it was a world, surrounded by more worlds.
[See more pictures of Jupiter and its moons in a gallery over at 80 Beats.]
Galileo went on to observe craters on the Moon, spots on the Sun, and the phases of Venus. It was that last that may have been his crowning achievement, because the way Venus showed phases meant it could not possibly orbit the Earth, and that it must orbit the Sun. The geocentric theory had held sway for over a thousand years, but Galileo proved it was wrong almost overnight. Of course, the Church wasn’t thrilled with this, though I suspect they might have rolled with it if Galileo hadn’t been such an arrogant jerk and published a manuscript insulting the Pope, a man who used to be his friend and supporter.
If there is a lesson in there, I leave it to my readers to suss it out.
Now, all these years later, a lot of legends exist over the man. He didn’t invent the telescope, he wasn’t the first to point it at the sky, and he wasn’t even the first to publish his drawings. But he was a merciless self-promoter, and because of that we do remember him now (again, any lessons learned here are up to you). And it’s not entirely unfair to do so; he was a tireless observer, a wonderful artist, a great inventor (he may not have been the first to build a telescope, but he made his far better than its predecessors) and a brilliant scientist who, even if he hadn’t done so much for astronomy, would still be remembered today for his other work.
Tonight, just after sunset, Jupiter will be a glowing white beacon in the southwest. I have a Galileoscope, an inexpensive telescope created as part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, an effort to get as many people on Earth to look up as possible. I think perhaps it would be fitting if I brave the subzero temperature outside, maybe for just a few minutes, and take a look at the mighty planet. Tonight’s display is better than Galileo himself had it: all four moons will be perfectly arrayed, two on each side of Jupiter’s face.
I’m not a very religious man, nor am I a very spiritual man. But I know there will still be a sense of connection, a sense of wonder that I will have tonight that I will share with a man long dead, but whose life and achievements still echo through time.