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

samzenpus posted about 6 months ago | from the giving-credit-where-it's-due dept.

Space 37

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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I knew him. (5, Funny)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#46895749)

We just called him Zak. Good guy.

Re:I knew him. (2, Informative)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 6 months ago | (#46896007)

We just called him Zak. Good guy.

Just how old are you? He died in 1904.

Wait (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46895767)

I was told we can only explore the universe by drinking Tang in the upper atmosphere??? These dandies found galaxies but didn't even have color photographs or computers! I'm supposed to believe they could discover how big the universe is? LOL ya right, pull the other one!

Re:Wait (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46895799)

Hey, bro, let me give you some advice: vary your posting style, otherwise it's going to come back and haunt you. From the wording you use, it's clear you're the same guy who posted earlier today on "Space Nutters" and "rubber suits". You might think that it doesn't matter, because you are posting AC, but one day you are going to forget to check that "Post Anonymously" box -- it happens to the best of us trolls sooner or later -- and wipe out whatever reputation you've established.

Re:Wait (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46895841)

Vary your insane beliefs and I won't need to mock them. Maybe watch some more Star Trek to "inspire" you to build Mars colonies!

Burn in hell, Lockwood. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46895947)

No one cares about your guzzling gallons of Tang and then washing it down with 20 pounds of Ho-Hos.

Re:Burn in hell, Lockwood. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46896025)

What if it's in space and the Ho-Hos were 3D printed? Ah then it's the future of the species, right?

amazing stuff (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#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.

tl;dr: developed piggyback astronomy (3, Informative)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | about 6 months ago | (#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.

Not the best article for Isaac Roberts... (4, Informative)

Ecuador (740021) | about 6 months ago | (#46895877)

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!

Re:Not the best article for Isaac Roberts... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46895953)

Care to provide the link to these articles you claim to have read?

Re:Not the best article for Isaac Roberts... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46896103)

I thought it was a good article overall, but a couple of not so great bits, as you mention.

For example: "equatorially-mounted telescope—a very stable mount."

Being "very stable" isn't exactly what makes something an equatorial mount...

Re:Not the best article for Isaac Roberts... (2)

cyn1c77 (928549) | about 6 months ago | (#46896635)

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 developing piggybacking. 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.

Re:Not the best article for Isaac Roberts... (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 6 months ago | (#46898901)

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.

Re:Not the best article for Isaac Roberts... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46896915)

the writer is not really an amateur astronomer.

Maybe he is a Republican. Their kind doesn't believe in astronomy.

Wrong (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#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

Re: Wrong (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46897047)

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.

Six times? (2)

Slartibartfast (3395) | about 6 months ago | (#46896109)

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.

Re:Six times? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46896211)

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

Re:Six times? (1)

chispito (1870390) | about 6 months ago | (#46896859)

This. Also: adaptive optics.

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

More than just size: much, much more - mostly tech (3, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 6 months ago | (#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.

Re:Six times? (2)

DMUTPeregrine (612791) | about 6 months ago | (#46898773)

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.

f him (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46896173)

John Dobson did way more for amateur astronomy, showing people how to make huge light buckets for as little money as possible and taking astronomy to the sidewalks so regular people could discover it. Amateur astrophotography didn't really take off until digital cameras and post processing became available, after Isaac's time and that's mostly done through the scope.

Re:f him (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 6 months ago | (#46896753)

Agreed that Dobson did more to popularize astronomy.

Guess we leave this one up to the history "experts" to argue over to the end of time.

Why is the word amateur in inverted commas? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46896233)

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?

Re:Why is the word amateur in inverted commas? (1)

turbidostato (878842) | about 6 months ago | (#46896397)

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

Autodidact?

Yes... only 6 times (1)

SlayerofGods (682938) | about 6 months ago | (#46896291)

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

Pray tell... (1)

Slartibartfast (3395) | about 6 months ago | (#46896757)

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 largest mirror mentioned) is 8.25 times larger, or 68 times more area. If, indeed, the 1845 number were intended, it should not have been phrased as it was: not only was there a closer candidate for "nearly 200 years," but 2014-1845 = 169. I guess that you could rationalize a rounding up to 200 with that, but I think most would round down to 150... or maybe up to 170 -- both of which it's nearer to than "nearly 200."

Do you somehow come up with something different?

Re:Pray tell... (1)

DriveDog (822962) | about 6 months ago | (#46902157)

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.

Here, here! (or is it hear, hear?) (2)

wisebabo (638845) | about 6 months ago | (#46896411)

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!".

Re:Here, here! (or is it hear, hear?) (3, Informative)

Slartibartfast (3395) | about 6 months ago | (#46896789)

It's "Hear, hear!" I'd wondered about that for some years until I'd read in some book someone saying, "Oyez, oyez!" Not sure where that derived from, but it's close enough to Spanish's "Oye, oye" (Literally: (you) hear) that its origin became clear. And, oh, hey -- here's Wikipedia to give me more info than I ever knew existed on the topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Here, here! (or is it hear, hear?) (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 6 months ago | (#46897477)

And, oh, hey

Don't you mean "oh-hey, oh-hey"?

Re:Here, here! (or is it hear, hear?) (1)

Slartibartfast (3395) | about 6 months ago | (#46905099)

Well played, sir. Well played.

Check your numbers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46896787)

We can see tens of thousands of stars with the naked eye? I don't think so. Try 1,000-2,000 under normal, clear dark sky conditions.

Your mom (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46897061)

The one who watches your mom get changed in front of her window every night

Re:Your mom (2)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 6 months ago | (#46897481)

That may be how your mom does it, but most people get changed behind their windows.

A lot of astronomy advances come from amateurs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46898163)

There is a lot of sky, and the the best telescopes can only image a small portion of it at a time, so there is still plenty things that can be discovered by equipment that an amateur could reasonably expect to obtain.

However, I think the title of "greatest" amateur probably goes to Tycho Brahe [wikipedia.org] , who gathered the data that were eventually used to produce Kepler's laws of planetary motion.

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