Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas set of charts. The basic standard is the Pocket Sky Atlas in either the original or Jumbo Edition , which shows stars to magnitude 7. Next up is the larger and deeper Sky Atlas The next up, once you know your way around, are the even larger Interstellarum atlas stars to magnitude 9. And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection which includes its own charts , Sky Atlas Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically meaning heavy and expensive. And as Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide , "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works.
This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand. South is up. Jupiter about as it appears visually in a large amateur scope during excellent seeing.
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Sean Walker took this image on the evening of July 26th. Jupiter looks historically strange. Not only is the Great Red Spot extremely prominent, the normally bright Equatorial Zone has turned unusually dusky. Saturn as it appears in a medium-size amateur telescope during excellent seeing. North is up. The C ring is most easily visible where it's in front of the globe. The shadow of the globe on the rings is clearly visible just off the globe's upper-left edge. Mercury is having a fairly good morning apparition. Look for it very low above the east-northeast horizon about 45 minutes before sunrise, as shown at the top of this page.
Venus magnitude —4. In a telescope Venus is a very fat crescent 28 arcseconds tall. For the best telescopic seeing catch Venus as early as you can, preferably long before sunset while it is still high. Mars fades from magnitude —2. On the other hand, it rises higher in the southeast earlier in the evening and stands highest in the south around 10 or 11 p.
Mars shrinks from 22 to 21 arcseconds wide this week, still very unusually large. The dust in its atmosphere continues to thin. For a Mars map that shows which side is facing Earth at your time and date, use our Mars Profiler.
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Jupiter magnitude —2. The large dark region in the upper part of the image is Mare Erythraeum. I think that the black dot on the right limb is the top of the volcano Olympus Mons poking through the clouds. Click on the image to see it at full size. This image generated by Stellarium shows the situation from the UK, looking West, as it will be on Sunday March 25th at approximately pm. Keen observers will have noticed that Venus and Jupiter have moved further apart since their beautiful conjuction last week, however this will still be a lovely event to see.
If you click on this image to see it a full size, you can see that Venus is not far below the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters which is a lovely, bright, open star cluster in Taurus. Orion, The Hunter, is just off to the East. Also notice the line on the image; This is the Ecliptic which marks the apparent path that the Sun follows through the sky over the course of the year.
Having just got back from a refreshing week skiing in La Tania, France, I finally got of my backside to do some Mars Imaging. I have actually tried recently but could not get a good blue channel, and I have realised that my secondhand Trutek blue filter has no IR-cut! Additionally, I used the amazing WinJupos program to de-rotate the images and was therefore able to shoot longer AVI sequences than normal. In , Wilkins became chaplain to Charles Louis, Prince Elector of the Palatine, which led to his visiting Germany and meeting scholars on the Continent Wilkins , iii; Henry We know that Wilkins was a telescopic astronomer, and a great admirer of Galileo and Kepler in particular, although he was not himself significant as a telescopic discoverer.
By , however, the first generation of simple spectacle-lens refractors had revealed everything within their optical capacity, and there was little new to see — the first example in scientific history of original discovery first being facilitated, and then halted, by the available technology. And by the s, when the advancing glass-making and figuring technologies of Italy and Holland had made possible a new generation of larger-aperture and much more powerful telescopes, Wilkins was probably too involved in education, policy and wider public life to have the time for regular observing.
On the other hand, Wilkins and his friends in Oxford did possess one of the new long focus telescopes: an instrument of 80 feet focal length we are not told the lens aperture intended for lunar work, as mentioned in Samuel Hartlib's Ephemerides of Hartlib , Birch Indeed, the new astronomy had already been received with much interest in Britain. A Welsh physician, Dr Robert Recorde, had been the first English-language author to give Copernicus a favourable mention in , while in and Thomas Digges had not only written most favourably about Copernicus's heliocentric theory, but had even argued, both in Latin and in English, that the starry heavens receded to infinity Mclean On the other hand, these men discussed Copernicus's theory as a hypothesis , as did their Roman Catholic brethren in Italy: not because of any Church restriction, but because until James Bradley discovered the aberration of light in , and Friedrich W Bessel announced a definitive value for a stellar parallax in , the moving Earth theory simply lacked a physical, geometrical proof.
And let us remember that the scholars of were no less rigorous regarding intellectual standards of proof than we are today; they were all too aware of the difference between an interesting theory and a demonstrated fact.
John Wilkins's significance, therefore, derived not so much from his being an astronomical discoverer as from his being an inspirer, an educator, and a scientific visionary. And it is not for nothing that I have described him as the late Sir Patrick Moore's intellectual ancestor Chapman Wilkins first appeared on the astronomical stage at the age of 24, in , when he published his highly influential The Discovery of a New World.
True, his name did not appear on the title page — a not uncommon practice at the time — but his authorship was soon well known. The argument running through the book is exemplified in the engraved pictorial title page figure 2.
There stands Copernicus, holding up a model of his heliocentric system, while facing him is Galileo, with his telescope. Behind them, however, is a depiction of a heliocentric universe, with the central Sun proclaiming himself to be the source of Lucem, calorem [et] motum.
Copernicus and Galileo stand before the Copernican universe. Note that the stars are not fixed to a classical sphere, but are scattered to infinity. Wadham College. Then instead of depicting the solar system as surrounded by the eighth sphere of the fixed stars, as was the convention, Wilkins follows Thomas Digges by showing the stars filling the corners of the page, as they receded to infinity.
Of course, this was by no means a radical idea by , for as we saw above, early telescopes had revealed numerous hitherto unimagined stars in the Pleiades, the Hyades and the Milky Way, as Galileo had even illustrated in his Sidereus Nuncius And with this fact before you, it did not need much imagination to conclude that far from forming a shell around the solar system, the starry realm did appear to recede to infinity Chapman , Chapman Central to Wilkins's book, as was rendered explicit in the title, was that the Earth was no more than an ordinary member of the solar system.
And once again, there was nothing new in this idea in , for even the first telescopes had shown that, far from being the classical points of light that wandered among the stars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn in particular were spherical objects, though with as yet no surface detail visible. Wilkins's significance, however, lies in his presenting these ideas to a vernacular English-reading audience: for Shakespeare's groundlings unable to read Galileo's Italian, or Copernicus's and Kepler's Latin.
And Wilkins even used pictures. But it would be incorrect to read anything ominous into the prior unavailability of these ideas to a non-scholarly audience. It certainly was not connected with any kind of ecclesiastical suppression, as is popularly assumed. English printing had been remarkably diverse long before Wilkins was born, offering a range of publications extending from joke books to sermons.
And while the press was officially regulated, and would remain so, on and off, until , what the censors were concerned with was politically subversive literature, not talk of the Earth going around the Sun. Indeed, there was a booming market for astrological books and almanacs, as well as for popular counter-publications ridiculing the claims of astrologers Capp Where I would suggest that Wilkins was both original and enterprising, however, was in his recognition of a burgeoning market for the new astronomy among English readers.
And as his subsequent career would make clear, he had a distinct genius for the art of persuasion! In particular, he laid stress on accurate mathematical knowledge, as possessing a firmer foundation than as things stood in other experimental pursuits, such as chemistry. Wilkins's intention in the Discovery and its amplification in the Discourse was to argue for a new understanding of the universe.
In Aristotelian science, combustion, attraction and repulsion happened from necessity. Quite simply, it was the nature of heavy objects to fall, and of light ones, such as smoke, to rise. But Wilkins saw this way of understanding Nature to have been fundamentally undermined by a cascade of physical discoveries made over the preceding couple of centuries. These included the great oceanic voyages of discovery, which had shown the existence of continents and oceans unimagined by the ancient Greeks though the Greeks by BC knew the globe to be a sphere , together with the astronomical and physical discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, William Gilbert and many others.
For the universe as understood by Wilkins was not constituted of the qualitative hierarchies, crystalline planetary spheres and terrestrial fixity of the ancients, but was a profoundly different place.
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As a great educator and inspirer, Wilkins was an instinctive synthesizer. Intimately acquainted as he was with the findings of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Gilbert, Thomas Digges and geographical writers such as Richard Hakluyt, he was struck by how profoundly astronomy and geography had changed in no more than three or four generations. I would even suggest that science was advancing more dramatically in Wilkins's day than it is in our own, for prodigious as the rate of advance has been since , we have all grown up accustomed to the idea of relentless progress.
But to a person born in , let alone one born in , things had changed alarmingly and beyond recognition. For how could landfalls made by unlettered men in a ship, or things seen through two spectacle lenses in a tube, or experiments conducted with little Earth terrella spherical magnets fundamentally undermine the wisdom of the centuries? And likewise in the medical sciences, how could it be that Dr William Harvey, when he announced his discovery of the circulation of the blood under systolic cardiac force in , should inadvertently turn classical Greek physiology upon its head?
Central to Wilkins's whole argument about the new astronomy was that the planets were worlds just like our own. And particularly so was the Moon, for it was astronomically very close at hand, and displayed plenty of detail to the early telescopes. A modern-day reader, however, may not quite appreciate the shock value of the appearance of the lunar surface to the astronomers of and the years thereafter. For instead of being made of this unstable elemental mixture, the Moon, along with every other astronomical body, was held to be formed of the quintessence: the fifth, perfect element, eternally at peace with itself.
So said Aristotle and his followers. It is true that even the naked-eye Moon had light and dark areas, and displayed phases, but these had long been explained in a number of ways. The dark areas could, for example, be seen as a sort of tarnishing of a perfectly smooth silvery ball: tarnished, perhaps, because of the light being reflected upon it by the corrupt Earth. Other pagan classical thinkers had suggested that the Moon might have been made of a translucent, even quartz-like substance which did odd things to the light falling upon it, to create the effect of light and dark regions.
And as for the phases, these were correctly explained via the ancient knowledge of its spherical character, its rotation around the Earth, and the reflection of sunlight upon it. Yet to understand the contemporary power of Wilkins's arguments, like those of Galileo before him, one must remember that the classical universe was not just a physical, but also a moral place, seen most obviously in the juxtaposition between the corrupt, chaotic Earth and the perfect heavens.
And where Wilkins was radical was in his rejection of this idea; for to him, the Earth and heavens were part of one natural divine creation, and had been the way they are now since the beginning. Everything, moreover, was amenable to physical, mathematical and experimental inquiry, particularly with the new research tools, such as telescopes.
The lunar mountains were very important to Wilkins, especially as he was well aware that we could even measure their heights and dimensions. Galileo had shown, for example, that geometry was the key, for if we already knew the distance and diameter of the Moon in miles — as they did by the early 17th century — then we could use the shadows cast by a mountain to compute its height.
Galileo and other astronomers tried to devise various types of micrometer to hopefully measure this fraction more precisely, although the practical optical geometry would not be solved until , when William Gascoigne of Leeds — unbeknown to Wilkins — invented his screw filar micrometer to be used in conjunction with a Keplerian eyepiece. Gascoigne's invention would remain unknown, however, until , when Richard Townley, Robert Hooke figure 4 and others drew it to the attention of the fledgling Royal Society and published a description and a detailed engraving of the instrument in Philosophical Transactions Townley Wilkins was reputed to have had a similar instrument in Oxford.
Reconstruction by Rita Greer from detailed contemporary description, c. Wilkins laid out all of these evidences in a clear, concise and easily readable English, stressing in particular the fundamental importance of the telescope and telescopic discovery. But one of the key conclusions Wilkins drew was that modern discovery had shown that ours was not the only world. Instead, there was what the 17th-century philosopher-scientists called a plurality of worlds.
And one conclusion one might draw from this line of thinking was that the myriad stars visible through the telescope could well have planets rotating around them.