History of Astronomy

Visit to Herschel Museum in Bath

Ean Ean, Rhys and Hannah and I visited the Herschel Astronomy in Bath on the way back from a weekend trip to Wells. The Herschel Museum of Astronomy at 19 New King Street, Bath, England, is located in a preserved town house that was formerly the home of William Herschel and his sister Caroline. Its patron is Queen’s Brian May and the introductory video is narrated by Patrick Moore. It was from this house, using a telescope of his own design that William discovered the planet Uranus in 1781, and below are some pictures from the garden from which this observation was made. The photos are from our visit today.

The objects in the pictures below are in some cases the Herschels’ own or those of people close to them. Other aspects of the house are re-creations to give idea of what life was like when the Herschels lived there, including items from the same era.

Andy, Ean Ean, Rhys and Hannah


Sketching at the telescope

In the course of having a discussion with Nick about sketching, I found my first observing notebook, page 1 of which is reproduced below.

I thought it might be of some interest!

The telescope, if I remember correctly (it was 54 years ago!) was a brass ‘scope of my father’s which I had “adapted”.

The notebook stops in late 1964, when I discovered other things that 17 year-old boys of that time could do in the evenings!

There is then a big gap until 1997 when interest revived!

Anyone got anything earlier?

Bordeaux ‘Astronomy’ continued….

27-28th July

Heading back to Bordeaux. The weather has not been great to be honest. The last two days are supposed to be getting sunnier – we’ll see…

This morning (28th), before breakfast, we witnessed the tidal bore – a phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave (or waves) of water that travel up a river or narrow bay against the direction of the river or bay’s current. As the tide is linked to the moon, I thought that was a good place to start this new blog entry.

Whilst cruising towards the next point of interest, I’ve explored the ship and had a visit to the bridge to see the goings on there – watching the surface radar was rather hypnotic. There were a number of binoculars on display as well.

On the top (sun – or lack of!) deck, are the liferafts – our first tenuous ‘Astronomy Link of the Day’ (spot the name on it!)

Yesterday we visited Saint-Emilion, in the rain… perhaps this is a good thing as J and I are slowly turning into fishes (Pisces), with all the wine we’re drinking at lunch, dinner and the many wine tastings at the different Chateaux along the way….! We don’t really drink at home and sharing a bottle of ‘Abbey’ dark beer on a Saturday over a curry zonks us out – so how we’re coping here is anyone’s guess!

…or perhaps we’re not coping! At Chateau Fombrauge….

Waiting for the wine to mature…

….just outside Saint-Emilion, there were a number of much older ways to tell the time, these sundials piqued our interest:

….including this stone multi-faceted version, dating from 1679

Sundials are one of the oldest tools for measuring time using the shadow of the Sun. The Egyptians used a shadow stick or shadow clock as early as 1500 BC. The vertical stick or “gnomon” marked the time of day by the length and position of the stick’s shadow. Gnomon in Greek means “the one that knows.” Sundials are often mounted on a base while some are designed to be hung vertically on a building, wall or tree.

Multifaceted sundials were complicated time keepers, some having up to fifty gnomons (or arms) on them and although not precise, were more a statement of an owner’s interest in science, mathematics, and art. They were also an example of a stone mason’s clever and impressive carving skills.

There were some interesting modern works of art on the estates well, including this oversized wine bottle that had a bit of a space theme:

If Jules continues to drink at her current rate, she might end up like what was on the back…!

Poor Julie!

St Emilion is a pretty place. It would have been stunning in the sun, with the light glinting off the limestone.

This last picture overlooking the town was taken from the grounds of the rather swanky ‘Hostellerie de Plaisance’ hotel and restaurant… in fact it was a Michelin…

Two (or double) Star (that’s one for Nick), establishment!

At the end of the day, I think I deserved my cold Meteor beer!

Damian & Julie

Magic Lantern Astronomy Slides

I went to see a friend over the weekend who is a prominent figure in the Magic Lantern Society.

Lantern lectures were one of the most prominent and popular forms of entertainment in the nineteenth century. They were presented in a range of venues including schools, churches, Mechanics’ Institutes and by itinerant lecturers, as well as occurring privately in domestic settings. Popular lectures on scientific subjects such as astronomy were a common theme for such performances and were specially associated with the philosophy of ‘rational recreation’ whereby people, especially the working classes, were encouraged to partake in improving pursuits in their spare time.

He had recently purchased some astronomical slides and wondered if I’d be interested in taking a look and photographing them before they got split up and sold on…

I took the opportunity and spent a wet Saturday, December afternoon going through them…

Now, I’m spending even more time trying to work out what they all are and giving them references, so that I can make a future RAG presentation. I’d like to try and do that in the style of a Magic Lantern Show (via PowerPoint!) Perhaps later in the year, after the summer break…

Something very different for us but a rare chance to see some astronomy history.

For now, here is a beautiful representation of the moon….



All hand painted onto glass and set into wooden frames. Dating from the mid 1800s.