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Posts Tagged ‘telescope

“The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons”*…


The closest astronomers have come to directly “seeing” a black hole happened last year, when the LIGO observatory detected the spacetime-warping gravitational waves radiating from a pair of black holes that collided some 1.3 billion years ago.

That’s cool. But for astronomers, it’s not enough. What’s eluded them is a view of the event horizon, the boundary of the black hole from which, when crossed, there is no return. After the event horizon, gravity is so intense that not even light can escape.

We’ve never seen a direct image of a black hole. But if an audacious experiment called the Event Horizon Telescope is successful, we’ll see one for the first time…

Find out how at “Astronomers just turned on a planet-size telescope to take a picture of a black hole.”

* Edwin Hubble


As we look into it, we might recall that it was on this date in 1006 CE that observers across China, Japan, Iraq, Egypt, and Europe recorded their observation of a supernova (now known as SN 1006).  Likely the brightest observed stellar event in recorded history, it reached an estimated −7.5 visual magnitude (more than sixteen times the brightness of Venus).  Many experts believe that it was also recorded in the Native American petroglyphs in White Tank Mountain Regional Park, Arizona, making them the first North American record of a supernova sighting.

SN 1006 supernova remnant



Written by LW

April 30, 2017 at 1:01 am

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”*…


Newton’s reflecting telescope of 1671

On 11 January 1672, the Fellows of the British Royal Society were treated to a demonstration of Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope, which formed images with mirrors rather than with the lenses that had been used since the time of Galileo. Afterward, the fellows hailed Newton as the inventor of this marvellous new instrument, an attribution that sticks to the present. However, this linear historical account obscures a far more interesting, convoluted story. Newton’s claim was immediately challenged on behalf of two other contenders, James Gregory and Laurent Cassegrain. More confounding, the earliest known concept of using a curved mirror to focus light predated Newton by more than 1,500 years; the final realisation of a practical reflecting telescope post-dated him by more than a half century…

For almost any device, claiming one individual as the inventor is problematic to say the least. Conception, demonstration and implementation can be very different things, and the path connecting them is typically not a line but a long, challenging and tortuous route…

A cautionary tale illustrating the danger of crediting technologies to single inventors: “How many great minds does it take to invent a telescope?

Pair with this explanation of why men so often get credit for women’s inventions– a phenomenon so common that it has a name, “the Matilda effect.”

* Issac Newton


As we share the credit, we might send scientific birthday greetings to Vincenzo Viviani; he was born on this date in 1622.  A mathematician and engineer, Viviani is probably best remembered as a discipline of Galileo: he served as the (then-blind) scientist’s secretary until Galileo’s death; he edited the first edition of Galileo’s collected works; and he worked tirelessly to have his master’s memory rehabilitated.  But Viviani was an accomplished scientist in his own right: he published a number of books on mathematical and scientific subjects, and was a founding member of the Accademia del Cimento, one of the first important scientific societies, predating England’s Royal Society.


Written by LW

April 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

It’s always Chile in Norway?…


When it comes to a country’s prospects, is morphology destiny?  Or is it simply the phrenology of geography? Strange Maps explores

Do Norwegians feel curiously at home in Chile, and vice versa? Do South Africans have a strange affinity with Italians? And Filipinos with Maldivians? They should, at least if they’re map nerds: each lives in a country with a territorial morphology that closely resembles the other’s.

Although they’re on opposite sides of the globe, Chile and Norway are each other’s type, morphologically speaking: elongated to the extreme…

The Five Types of Territorial Morphology [c.f., here] sounds like a fun parlour game, at least in cartophile circles (is Portugal compact or elongated? Is or isn’t Somalia prorupt? Does New Zealand qualify as fragmented?) But there is a serious, geopolitical concern behind this attempt at classification. For a country’s shape has a profound impact on its economic success, and even its political viability.

Case in point: Lesotho. Being completely surrounded by another country does your economy no good. Four out of 10 Lesothans live on less than $1 a day, and the country ranks 160th (out of 187) on the UNDP’s  Human Development Index. Even compared with the wildly unequal society that is South Africa, Lesotho stands out as a pocket of deprivation…

Another morphology, another set of problems. Fragmented states often experience great centrifugal pressures, with separatism affecting their outlying fragments. This is true of the Philippines, the central government of which only last October concluded a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which had waged a separatist guerilla on the southern island of Mindanao. Something similar has been endemic in Aceh, at the western tip of Sumatra, where both the Dutch colonisers and the Indonesian central government have battled insurrections and rebellions.

Indonesia has had to contend with a few other centrifugal forces, one of which actually succeeded (and seceded): East Timor, which in 2002 became the 21st century’s first independent state. In the process, East Timor changed from being a fragment of a fragmented state to being the solid core of a compact state.

The implicit message of the Five Types is that compact is best, avoiding the logistical problems posed by the elongated, fragmented, perforated and protruded types. But is that really so? Cambodia, vaguely resembling a sea shell, is a fairly compact nation. That didn’t stop it descending into murderous anarchy when the Khmer Rouge took power in the mid-1970s, installing a regime that took its cue from the crazier aspects of Maoist Communism. China itself, morphologically compact, is torn between its high-performing coastal zone, an underdeveloped hinterland, and a far west forever rumbling with the distant thunder of separatism.

Perhaps these morphologies are the star signs of geopolitics: a fairly random way to categorise states and territories, which may or may not behave like the categories they’re placed in predict they will. Maybe the Five Types are a parlour game after all…

Read the whole story at Strange Maps.


As we agree with Virgil that we should “trust not too much in appearances,” we might send clearly-magnified birthday greetings to Alexis-Marie de Rochon; he was born on this date in 1741. An astronomer, physicist, and inveterate traveller, de Rochon worked extensively in optics and lens design– and is probably best remembered as the inventor of the retractable telescope, the spyglass.




Written by LW

February 21, 2013 at 1:01 am

Looking closely. Very closely…


Designer Adam Saynuk is a detail guy… and a very fine photographer.  Consider the photographs that he took for The Taco Truck (restaurant/store/food truck in Hoboken, NJ) last year, in which he minutely examined each of 35 ingredients


Corn Tortillas

See them all here.  And see some of Adam’s other work here.

[TotH to Good]


As we resolve to leave our glasses on while eating, we might recall that it was on this date in 1609 that Galileo first demonstrated his telescope.  Earlier that year, while in Venice, he’d heard of “Dutch perspective glass,” which made distant objects appear closer and larger.  He reports that he returned to Padua, made a prototype, then an improved telescope, and returned to Venice– where he presented his invention to the Doge Leonardo Donato, who was sitting in full council. The Doge and Senate were so impressed that they awarded him life tenure for his lectureship at Padua and doubled his salary.

Later that same year, Galileo turned his invention around, and created the precursor of Adam’s favorite optical tool, a compound microscope with a convex and a concave lens.

19th Century painting of Galileo displaying his telescope to Leonardo Donato (source)



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