Of New Celestial Wonders: How the telescope has transformed human understanding, 1609-2019

Monday, April 15, 2019 - 17:15
Contact person
Dr Cristina Neagu
01865 276265
Talk / Lecture

On 26th July, 1609, at 9 pm, Thomas Harriott, formerly of St Mary's Hall, Oriel College, Oxford, used his newly acquired 'Dutch Truncke', or telescope, to draw the first map of the moon.  It appeared radically different  from the moon as it appeared to the naked eye. Harriot's map still survives. Four months later, Galileo in Padua  did the same. Two simple lenses in a tube, it seemed, revealed new celestial wonders, which soon included Jupiter's satellites, sunspots, the stars of the Milky Way, and much else besides.  Telescopes improved rapidly, even opening the prospect of discovering intelligent beings on other worlds.  Then new technologies such as photography and chemical spectroscopy came to be in the Victorian age, with the giant American mountain top telescopes in the 20th century, revealing distant galaxies, and predicating a universe expanding from a 'Big Bang', while space telescopes and telescope carrying space probes reveal details on Pluto, as well the presence of distant exo-planets.  Yet the real wonder of the telescope lay in its power to reveal worlds invisible to our ordinary senses. And once that principle had sunk into human understanding, then a whole new mass of sense-enhancing technologies would be developed, from Robert Hooke's Microscope which revealed minute organic structures, down to non-intrusive scanning machines in our hospitals which reveal the internal workings of our bodies.  But this is not just a story about clever devices.  It is also about the ingenious men and women who have invented, developed, improved, and used them; and who still continue to do so today.

The talk, delivered by Dr Allan Chapman, will take place on 15 April 2019, at 5;15 pm. It complements the exhibition Thinking 3D: The Mathematics of Space open in the Upper Library. For details about the exhibition, please click here.

All are welcome. The event is free of charge, but spaces are limited. To book a place, please contact the Keeper of Special Collections at Christ Church.