April 18, 2014

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Italian Masterpieces

images by Vera Uyehara

These images capture two unexpected highlights of our recent trip to Italy. Yes, my wife and I did see the Uffizi Gallery, Michelangelo's David, and other treasures of the art word, but we both agree that these science relics are also treasures. As part of an International Astronomical Union meeting on planetary nomenclature at the Vatican Observatory south of Rome, Brother Guy Consolmagno gave a tour that included seeing and touching masterpieces of astronomy. Here I hold Copernicus' famous book, De revolutionibus erbium coelestium (3rd edition), and Guy tilts up a copy of Riccioli's 1651 Almagestum novum. To examine originals of these revolutionary tomes (as well as Newton's Principia Mathematica and Kepler's Tabulae Rudolphinae) seemed to provide a visceral contact with the great scientists themselves - did they perhaps handle these very books? The wooden telescopes from the early 1800s are in the Galileo Museum in Florence. Their mounts were practical and beautiful solutions to the problem of tracking moving sky objects with pulleys, screws and moveable arcs. All the fittings were of shiny brass, and the wonderful newtonian scope at far right was focused by a worm and gear mechanism that moved the eyepiece closer or further from the mirror. I was surprised that such large aperture newtonians were in use so early.

Chuck Wood

Yesterday's LPOD: How Dark Was the Eclipse?

Tomorrow's LPOD: A Snapshot Tour


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