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What's up in the sky for January 2009

posted Jan 20, 2009, 11:05 AM by James Roe

            2009, The year of astronomy! Observational astronomy started by Galileo in Dec. 1609. In his words," I idly turned my telescope to the sky".  Galileo called his new instrument an occhiale, in Italian, or a perspiculum in Latin.  It was Ionnes Demisian, another mathematician, that combined the Greek words for "far" and "to look" to form telescopio, to describe it.  

  Galileo was then 45 years old when he looked at the sky for the first time through his  telescope. His background was music, which he got from his father, who was a musician and composer. A piece of his father’s music lives on today as the Gagliarda in Suite No. 1 in the classical piece by Respighi, " Ancient Airs and Dances."   As a youth Galileo studied medicine at the University of Padua, but became interested in mathematics, which he later taught at Padua.  While teaching mathematics he began to study mechanics, which became the foundation for modern physics.  

            William Herschel at 43  threw all of his energy into astronomy. Up to then he had been an oboist in the Hanoverian Guard who had come to England to entertain King George III, the Hanoverian monarch who now ruled England,  Herschel also taught music and he composed some music for the Durham Militia Band, which is still played today.

           Like Galileo, Herschel got his knowledge of music from his father. He taught himself  astronomy, mathematics, and everything else he needed to to become an all around astronomer.  Also like Galileo he made telescopes, but he was not happy with the refractors he made.  Any increase in power meant longer and longer tubes.  Then he began to make reflectors, and he ground their mirrors.  His favorite was a 7′ reflector that he had hand ground himself.  With this telescope he would discover Uranus on March 13, 1781.  This was shocking!  Before written language there had been five planets.  Copernicus had made the Earth number six.  Since the end of the seventeenth century astronomers were secure in their estimate of the size of the solar system, it ended with Saturn, 890,000,000 miles away.  Herschel had not just found a new planet, he had doubled the size of the solar system.

   Galileo held the title of mathematician.  He asked for, and got, the right to add to his title Natural Philosopher, or one who studied science.  Herschel, too,  was hailed as a genius, but that bothered him.  He realized there was a lot he didn’t know, and he along with everyone else in astronomy began to wonder how big the solar system really was, and what was the true size of the Universe?

    No one would now dare say that the Solar System ended with Uranus.

    Jan  14  Venus is at it’s greatest elongation.

            17 The Moon is at last quarter.

            26  New Moon occurs at 1:55 am CST; annular solar eclipse

            28  The moon passes 5deg north of Uranus 7pm CST.

            29   The Moon passes 3 deg north of Venus 6am CST