Galactic Tango

The cover photo is not my photo of Messier 51, the “Whirlpool Galaxy” — two galaxies interlocked in a cosmic billion year tango.  No indeed.  Here is my first attempt:


Which is not to say I’m disappointed.  I’ve got a lot to learn — and what I managed to get here blew me away this morning.  Or rather, last night.

Last night my friend John Lewis gave me another tutorial round of training on Harvard’s 18″ reflector, the Clay Telescope.  The Clay Telescope is a much more complex instrument than the Star-Splitter, the Galilean refractor I’ve written about previously.  Every piece of equipment has its own program to run it; its brain is two stories below where its eye is; it does a lot of things automatically, but not necessarily precisely; everything is coded in astro-lingo (not to be confused with the even more complex field of astrolinguistics / LINCOS: lingua cosmica) which I’m still learning. Trouble-shooting it is a complex task.  It was also nearly 20°F the entire time, so one’s sense of urgency steadily increases, inversely correlated to the decreasing dexterity of one’s fingers. In short, I love it.

But check this out: in 1845, William Parsons built a much stronger reflector than the one I was using last night (his was had a lens 4x as large, it was called “The Leviathan of Parsonstown” — cf. Melville), from which, in the tradition of Galileo himself, he was able to hand draw an image of M51 that puts mine to shame. Here it is:



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