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The Greatest 'Amateur' Astronomer You've Probably Never Heard Of 37

Posted by samzenpus
from the giving-credit-where-it's-due dept.
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "From a true dark-sky site, the kind that was available to all of humanity for the first 200,000 years or so of our species' existence, the human eye can discern tens of thousands of stars, detailed features of the Milky Way and a handful of deep-sky nebulae. With the advent of the telescope, our reach into the Universe was greatly enhanced, as the increase in light-gathering power opened up orders of magnitude more stars and nebulae, and even allowed us to see a spiral structure to some nebulae beginning in the 1840s. But in all the time since then, the largest telescope ever developed is not even six times bigger than the largest from nearly 200 years ago. Yet the details we can observe in the Universe today aren't limited by what our eyes can perceive looking through our telescopes at all. The combination of astronomy and photography has changed our understanding of the Universe forever, and we owe the greatest advances to an 'amateur' you've probably never heard of: Isaac Roberts."
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The Greatest 'Amateur' Astronomer You've Probably Never Heard Of

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  • I knew him. (Score:5, Funny)

    by I'm New Around Here (1154723) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:47PM (#46895749)

    We just called him Zak. Good guy.

  • amazing stuff (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:52PM (#46895785)

    How the modern world is built on the intuition of the old. I wonder how these people would fare today, would they thrive, or would their unorthodoxy be dismissed.
    We have all dreamed new things under the sun, or at least, what we believe to be new, only to discover there is prior art. Hats off to a man who truly did so. There are not enough gentleman scientists anymore. And no, the world is not moe complex, or more informed, it just has a different view of reality.

  • by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:55PM (#46895801)

    his greatest contribution is a legacy that lasts to this day: he developed the technique of piggyback astronomy.

    piggyback astronomy tl;dr: put camera on equatorial mount telescope (disregard the telescope part) so you can do long exposures without (most of) the motion blur.

  • by Ecuador (740021) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @09:03PM (#46895877) Homepage
    Maybe it is just me, but why does the article look like it is written for 8-year olds? From the layout to the writing and includes errors that show the writer is not really an amateur astronomer. For example they used an image to show "piggyback" mount. Well, they took an image from a webpage that is titled Questar telescope piggyback mount, only from that article they took the image WITHOUT the piggyback mount! There are better articles about Isaac Roberts, the ones I had read were better. But of course it wouldn't be /. tradition if the summary linked the best ones!
    • by cyn1c77 (928549)

      Maybe it is just me, but why does the article look like it is written for 8-year olds? From the layout to the writing and includes errors that show the writer is not really an amateur astronomer. For example they used an image to show "piggyback" mount. Well, they took an image from a webpage that is titled Questar telescope piggyback mount, only from that article they took the image WITHOUT the piggyback mount! There are better articles about Isaac Roberts, the ones I had read were better.
      But of course it wouldn't be /. tradition if the summary linked the best ones!

      It's not just you. That "medium.com" website does what Powerpoint did for presentations.

      The media format makes anything look good, until someone with an operable brain actually reads it.

      I find that most of the articles written that way (like the presentations in Powerpoint) are also 2-10 times too long for the content.

      Regarding the article content, I would argue that the invention of the lens, the telescope, the equatorial mount, the film camera, and the CCD chip are of equal or larger importance than deve

      • Piggybacking is not a particularly novel concept if you have a camera and an equatorial mount. It's about as novel as resting your rifle (or iPhone) on a still surface when you shoot a deer 200 yards away (or take a picture at night). The development of each of those other items was groundbreaking and required actual insight and effort.

        It's always been facinating to me how many things were obvious AFTER they'd been done for the first time.

  • Wrong (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 01, 2014 @09:40PM (#46896081)

    > the human eye can discern tens of thousands of stars

    "This is a common misconception. There are about 6000 stars in the sky
    visible to the unaided eye ... you cannot see all 6000 stars at the same
    time. The Earth itself blocks half the sky, so you can only see at most
    half the stars in the sky at any one time."
    http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/badstarlight.html

    "The Yale Bright Star Catalog catalogs the "naked eye visible stars",
    which they consider to be those with a magnitude of 6.5 or brighter.
    Those have been catalogued and listed, and there are 9110 entries
    in that list"
    http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/742414.html

    • by Anonymous Coward

      People see time lapse photos and assume that's what the naked eye can see.

      I've been in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from any large cities, and the night sky doesn't look like in the pictures. Beautiful and serene, just not as detailed. And you'd have to be well studied to discern galactic features.

  • by Slartibartfast (3395) * <ken.jots@org> on Thursday May 01, 2014 @09:47PM (#46896109) Homepage Journal

    Not by my math. The largest on that Wikipedia page was over 10 m. That's over eight times the 1.26m telescope's diameter from 1815. Which is around 64 times the surface area. Please: better math, more precise statements.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      also, compare 1815 speculum metal reflectivity to modern vapor deposited coatings

    • by chispito (1870390)
      This. Also: adaptive optics.

      Which is around 64 times the surface area. Please: better math, more precise statements.

      • by petes_PoV (912422) on Friday May 02, 2014 @03:37AM (#46897321)

        Probably the biggest contribution to terrestrial astronomy has been the CCD,

        It's now possible, common even, for an amateur with a 20cm telescope to take images that were beyond the capabilities of a chemical photograph from a few decades earlier. And so far in advance of what could be observed before there was any photography at all that it's almost a completely different scientific discipline.

    • That and we now have interferometers. Keck's interferometer has been mothballed for now, but that effectively made it an 85m telescope as far as resolution goes, but not for light-gathering capacity.
  • Was he a professional? Did he do it for a living? if not then he is an amateur. If he did receive money then he is not an amateur.
    He may still be an expert since this is not dependent on whether someone does something for a living.

    What is the technical term for an expert who has not received formal training?

  • 6 times the diameter or really more importantly 36 times the area which is what really maters.

    • How are you getting six-fold? Am I missing something crazy obvious? Let's look at the parameters, shall we?
      "But in all the time since then, the largest telescope ever developed is not even six times bigger than the largest from nearly 200 years ago."
      It is currently 2014 -- at least, in my world. That makes "nearly 200 years ago" fall pretty darn near 1815. If he meant the 1845 date, he should have specified it, as there is one closer-to-but-not-hitting 200. The one from 1815 is 1.26m. 10.4 (the larges

      • by DriveDog (822962)
        Nope. 60-odd times the area, not 6. People throw around mirror diameters, but suggesting a comparison of light-gathering power between two telescopes implies comparing their mirrors' area.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @10:50PM (#46896411) Journal

    I'm not British so I don't know the correct way to spell that cheer.

    Still, I just want to say, good article or bad (according to Ecuador 740021), it opened up my eyes to a remarkable individual. Especially illuminating was the photographs of the Andromeda Galaxy which shows how much his techniques improved astronomy.

    Enough with the jokes. I wish to praise him, not pun-ish him. (no, really). Maybe in his case instead of "Here, here!" we should say "See, see!".

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