One night in a cornfield — Part Two

Posted by David Eicher
on Friday, July 15, 2011

Carefully using a red-filtered flashlight to preserve his eyes’ sensitivity to faint light, the boy made a quick drawing on paper of how the Andromeda Galaxy appeared with his 8-inch telescope on that late summer night. The bushes continued to rustle, the breeze shot through the trees, and Larry King continued to belt out questions on the radio. It was one more tiny moment in the history of the telescope — an instrument that has revolutionized science and our knowledge of the universe around us.

Photo credit: Adam Block and Tim Puckett
Today, astronomy enthusiasts take the dizzying pace of knowledge about the universe in stride. We know the solar system holds eight planets, a bunch of small, icy bodies, and strewn bands of comets and asteroids. We know the Milky Way Galaxy, in which our Sun resides, contains some 200 billion stars among its disk, laden also with gas and dust. We know the universe began in a Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago and has expanded ever since — the whole cosmic stew forming countless billions of galaxies along the way.

We know the bright, familiar stuff of the cosmos, that which glows and we consider “normal matter,” is in the minority. Some type of dark matter constitutes nearly a quarter of the stuff in the universe, and even more strangely, we know three-quarters of the cosmos consists of a mysterious dark energy that has yet to be explained. Each of these basic tenets originated from observations made by telescopes. The telescope has defined the universe in which we live.

But it wasn’t always this way. In 1608, the Dutch lens maker Hans Lipperhey invented the telescope. Beginning about a year later and continuing over the course of many months, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei turned his primitive telescope, similar to Lipperhey’s, toward the heavens.


Link to Part One.

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