I do wish people wouldn’t post things like this

I stumbled across the following image on Facebook, being reposted by people who should know better, and it awoke my inner HISTSCI_HULK:

I shall only be commenting on the first three images, if anybody has any criticism of the other ones, they’re welcome to add them in the comments.

To what extent Galileo developed his own telescope is debateable. He made a Dutch, telescope a model that had first been made public by Hans Lipperhey in September 1608. By using lenses of different focal lengths, he managed to increase the magnification, but then so did several others both at the same time and even before him.

Galileo was not the first to point the telescope skywards! As I have pointed out on several occasions, during that first demonstration by Lipperhey in Den Hague, the telescope was definitely pointed skywards:

The said glasses are very useful at sieges & in similar affairs, because one can distinguish from a mile’s distance & beyond several objects very well, as if they are very near & even the stars which normally are not visible for us, because of the scanty proportion and feeble sight of our eyes, can be seen with this instrument[1]

Even amongst natural philosophers and astronomers, Galileo was not the first. We know that Thomas Harriot preceded him in making astronomical observations. It is not clear, but Simon Marius might have begun his telescopic astronomical observations before Galileo. Also, the astronomers of the Collegio Romano began telescopic observations before Galileo went public with his Sidereus Nuncius and who was earliest they or Galileo is not determinable.

I wrote a whole very detailed article about the fact that Newton definitively did not invent the reflecting telescope that you can read here.

By the standards of the day William Herschel’s 20-foot telescope, built in 1782 seven years before the 40-foot telescope, was already a gigantic telescope, so the 40-footer was not the first. Worse than this is the fact that the image if of one of his normal ‘small’ telescopes and not the 40-footer. 

Herschel’s 40-foot telescope Source: Wikimedia Commons

People spew out these supposedly informative/educational or whatever images/articles, which are sloppily researched or not at all and are full of avoidable error. To put it bluntly it really pisses me off!

[1] Embassies of the King of Siam Sent to His Excellency Prince Maurits Arrived in The Hague on 10 September 1608, Transcribed from the French original, translated into English and Dutch, introduced by Henk Zoomers and edited by Huib Zuidervaart after a copy in the Louwman Collection of Historic Telescopes, Wassenaar, 2008 pp. 48-49 (original pagination: 9-11)


Filed under History of Optics, History of science, History of Technology

9 responses to “I do wish people wouldn’t post things like this

  1. Todd Timberlake

    I don’t think we really know if Herschel used his 40-foot telescope to discover Mimas and Enceladus. It was notoriously difficult to use, requiring several operators to get it pointing in the right direction, and Herschel was continuing to use his 20-foot telescope during that time which was easier to handle. He certainly did his most important work (in hindsight) with the 20-footer, extending astronomy beyond the solar system in the process. Of course, his most famous discovery was that of Uranus, which was done with a 7-foot telescope (the one pictured in that image from Facebook).

    All of which is to say, yeah that image is pretty sloppy with its history.

    The description for the Hooker is pretty decent. Hubble did use that scope to show, in 1924, that there were Cepheids in M31 and M33 and used Shapley’s calibration of Leavitt’s period-luminosity relation to show that these nebulae must lie far beyond the boundaries of even Shapley’s “Big Galaxy” (Shapley’s model of the Milky Way that he defended in the “Great Debate” of 1920) and were probably independent galaxies in their own right. One can quibble with “conclusively demonstrate” but most astronomers at that time seem to have been convinced. Even Shapley, who was opposed to the island universe theory, had to accept Hubble’s conclusions.

  2. Dear Thony Christie,

    I concur with you about the depth of the issues regarding people circulating problematic information and claims. As discussed and analyzed critically in my following post, All the World has become a Stage of Misinformation!

    There seems to be no limits in the extents and varieties of human failings, foibles and follies rooted in self-interest, irresponsibility, irrationalities, oversights, prejudices, misbeliefs, misjudgements, misrepresentations and (eco)systemic injustices. I often even have to coin new words to describe them. The latest examples are my three neologisms “Misquotation Pandemic“, “Disinformation Polemic” and “Viral Falsity“, as discussed in my extensive and analytical post entitled “Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity“, which can be easily locate at the Home page of my blog.

    I have enjoyed reading your post.

    Happy September to you!

    Wishing you a productive weekend doing or enjoying whatever that satisfies you the most!

    Yours sincerely,

  3. The images should really have included Dollond’s telescope with its achromatic doublet objective lens (he was first to patent this (1758), although not first to invent the achromatic doublet). Also in the 20th/21st Century, the development of adaptive optics and the use of laser guide stars was far more important than GoTo telescopes (setting circles had been common on large fixed telescopes for centuries).

  4. DCA

    It seems truly bizarre to label the fourth image “1917, Hubble’s telescope” since when it was built Hubble was a PhD student at Yerkes. It should be “Hale’s telescope” for its promoter, or “Ritchie’s telescope” for its builder (I’m fine with the former). Unless it is supposed to be “telescope with name associated with the person who made the most important discovery with this telescope type”, in which case Hubble (and maybe even Galileo) would make sense–but then this should have been explained. Also in that case Newton shouldn’t be there at all.

  5. Joe Fajerman

    Are you saying that Galileo was not influential in refuting the idea of the Geocentric universe? Because that is the point in question. I think everyone knows he used existing technology to study the sky.

    • Galileo was one of those, whose telescopic observations led to abandoning Aristotelian cosmology. Also, the discovery of the phases of Venus, which was made by several observers independently, led to a death of a pure geocentric model, but remained consistent with a Tychonic or semi-Tychonis system.

      However, all of that has nothing to do with the factual statements made on the image above that I criticised.

  6. I’d offer that “Remote Controlled Telescopes” is just as bad. It should have been merged with the “Go To Telescope” and called “Computerized Telescopes”. The introduction of CCD’s removed the need to process film and glass plates and allowed for easier data analysis. Computerized controls on the telescope drive meant one could use the “Dobsonian” (i.e. “alt-az”) mount for large telescopes. The engineering advantages of that design made much larger mirrors – including segmented mirrors – practical.

    • Richard,
      If you look at Thony’s drawing of Herschel’s 40-foot telescope, you will see that it is also alt-az mounted. There isn’t a disadvantage to alt-az mountings for visual observation, because all you see is a rotation of the field over time. It was the introduction of astronomical photography during the 19th Century that really made equatorial mountings essential.

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