A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
For the most part Native Americans of the pre-U.S. had no names for days, no
division of the week, nor a name for years, though underscoring the observation of the skies and the passing of time was a primary appreciation of a more sophisticated lunar cosmology.
Simply put, the lunar cycle was one of the major ways in which
Indians captured spent time. Days, weeks and travel distances were
in general measured in terms of nights passed, or sleeps (similarly
the length of the day in terms of the four major daily appearances
of the sun and moon). The passing of the year was marked in lunar
cycles, and delineated important, measurable, repeating events in the
environment important in the life of a tribe. (These events—harvests, plantings,
snows—would vary from tribe to tribe according to their geographic
Given that today is the winter solstice I thought to have a look at some artwork or imagery depicting the sun. I went to bookcase where there were some astronomy books and plucked out one at random--it turned out to be Denison Olmsted's (1791-1859) Practical Astronomy textbook sort of written for his 12 students at Yale in 1839 (and bound with Ebenezer Porter Mason's Introduction to Practical Astronomy, which was a supplement published ten years later). Its a fine not-big/not-little book (320 pages plus Mason's 135 pages), and it still reads pretty well. (There's also a very sweet 16-page outline of the course he taught, breaking the lectures down into fairly small chunks. There's an interesting part of lecture XII entitled "DANGERS" which addresses heat and cold and bad business that could come from "perturbations of the moon and planets" and comets, of course, particularly the one like the "threatening circumstances attending the great comet of 1843". As it happens the only annotation made by the 19th century owner of this book was right here, in the danger section, where they wrote the word again followed by five check/whatever marks.
There would of course be images of the sun in the book, and so was found this lovely small woodcut within the astronomical image (above), measuring in real life at about 5mm. There are a lot of lines on the circumference of this tiny circle.
The "S" stands for Sun.
And another beautifully-design illustration from the same source:
Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) published this God's-eye-view of creation a few years after his death in the fourth volume (Astronomica) of his six-volume Opera Omina. His friends and supporters of course saw to the publication of this mathematician/philosopher/logician's work1 back there in 1658, so Gassendi--a very prominent thinker from a long-line of thinkers nearly on the verge of great discovery here and there and certainly a witness to it--made his greatest adventure in publishing only in death.
Imaging a physical god is a tricky business in the history of the printed book. Bits of the creator of the universe turn up in book illustrations over hundreds of years, though I am not sure when the very first picture of a part of god appears. The hand of the creator (generally seen as the Primum Mobile) is not terribly uncommon in images of a scientific nature in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is perhaps best exemplified by Robert Fludd's famous Monochord:
Of course there are many instance of the full-bodied god being seen through a break in the clouds, though in all the instances of this that I have seen the tantalizing peak into whatever region it is that this god exists is left entirely blank, a small white space. As so:
(Title page is for the narrative poem Le Metamorfosi, Ovid’s Metamorphoses,
translated into Italian by Gioseppe Horologgi, and published in Venice in 1563. See an earlier post on this blog, A History of Blank and Empty Things: God in a Hole in the Sky, here.)
The eye of god is also not very uncommon, and is represented by an eye and also in a sacred triangle. Less common though are images like Gassendi's, which in a way, in an odd and almost offhand way, give the reader a sense of what it is that god might be seeing in agodly-lineof-sight Perhaps this is incorrect--but in judging his image with others in my experience it seems to me that the representation is a little more "personalized" here than just about anywhere else.
"That those spots and brighter parts which by
our sight might be distinguished in the Moon, do show the difference between
the Sea and Land of that other World... The spots represent the Sea, and
the brighter parts Land... That there are high mountains, deep valleys,
and spacious plains in the body of the Moon... That there is an atmosphere,
or an orb of gross vaporous air, immediately encompassing the body of
the Moon... That it is probable there may be inhabitants in this other
World, but of what kind they are is uncertain..."--Discovery of a New
World in the Moone (1638). by astronomer John Wilkins
Reading about the rover Curiosity taking bites of the Martian surface to analyze brought to mind an early and elegant piece of reasoning which put to rest the claims of life on the Moon. Belief in Lunar life is ancient, stretching back (for example) to Pythagoras, Plutarch and Lucian (who wrote perhaps the earliest piece on flying off to another non-celestial sphere). In more recent times bigger scientific names get thrown into that selenite melting pot: Carl Friedrich Gauss was a believer int eh possibilities of life there, as were the astronomers Helevius, Bode and (later on) Olbers, Littrow and Gruithausen. (Franz von Paula Gruithuisen [1774-1852] published his findings of urban structures in the very rough terrain above the Schroeter crater; his Wallwerk was quickly discredited though by astronomers with more powerful telescopes.)
[The seat of the problem for Gruithuisen--the complex structures at left thought by high in observation a low-powered refracting telescope to be streets and buildings. Source: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona, University of Arizona's HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment).]
In addition to the improvements in telescope resolving power--which provided better/more accurate maps of the lunar surface, particularly in the 1830's by Beer/Maedler and Lohmann--there was a major piece of thinking by Friedrich Bessel (1784-1846). Bessel was a superb observationalist and contributed vastly to the field with his work on stellar distance and identification, publishing his Fundamenta Astronomiae in 1818 and consequently constructing a star catalog of 63,000 objects. In 1834 he established that given the very sharp occulations that the Moon's diameter was found to be not very much smaller at all in relation to its measure by direct observation, meaning that the starlight was not deviated by atmospheric reaction, because the atmosphere of the Moon such as it was was 1/2000th of the density of that on Earth. Therefore: no perceptible atmosphere, no respiration, no life as it was understood to be "living".
It is odd that given that work and the very barren maps being produced in the 1830's and the higher-powered telescopes that showed masses of scarred surface that there was a flurry of pro-Lunar-life stuff to hit the popular newsstands just a few years later. A famous (and first?) case of this was with Edgar A. Poe's "The Unparalled Adventures of One Hans Pfall" which appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger in June 1835 and which detailed the story of a debt-ridden Pfall who takes off to the Moon in a hot air balloon for it more debt-free climate, and who then sends back a Selenite messenger on another balloon, and, well, nothing really happens. A much ore effective hoax was perpetrated in the New York Daily Sun for six days in August 1835 in a story attributed to the great astronomer William Herschel about find vast and complicated life on the Moon. (In real life Herschel was a believer but I think never published on it.)
It is odd that such a fair amount of activity--something which was also the modern beginnings of ET-based storytelling of fear and hope--would begin a year after Besell's thinking. And in a reutn-to-home0again, the crater nearby the Wallwerk of Gruithuisen (who also claimed that the whitish polar icecaps of Venus were caused by fire ceremonies by practicing Venetians), named Schroeter, was done so in the honor of the astronomer Johann Schroeter (1745-1816), for whom Besell worked as an assistant. (Surveyor 2 landed about 100km from the Schroeter crater, as well.)
In the 16th and 17th centuries it was not terribly uncommon to decorate a title page of a scientific/philosophical work with the portraits of standard-bearers and significant people in the field. This is particularly true in the Baroque era, when so much more of the title page seems to be decorated. I should have kept closer memory of examples of these works, but for right now two will suffice--they are rather good. The first is the work of Pergaeus Apllonius (ca. 260-200 bce) in the Opera, per doctissimum philosopphm Iohannem Memum, printed in Venice in 1537, which contains the first appearance in print of Apollonius' Conics.
Around the title of the book we find the half-length portraits of Pliny, Cicero, Quintiliius, Plutarch, Lucan, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Plato, Aristides, Euripedes, Aristophanes, Pindar, Theocritus, Vergil, Horace, Livy, Sallustius/Sallust and Apollonius--a big cast with differing shadows.
A great example of a title page dedicated to astronomers is that for Jan Luyts' (1655-1721, an instructor in maths and physics at Utrecht), text Astronomica Institutio, in qua Doctrina Sphaericaa atque Theorica... printed in Utrecht in 1692. It features a "action shot" of five major figures in astronomy: (from left to right) Galileo (who is rarely seen actually holding a telescope and here is brandishing one like a club, holding the instrument very weirdly), a ham-handed Hevelius looking slyly over Galileo's shoulder (though it sort of looks like Kepler in a way, I'm pretty sure that Galileo is Galileo), with Brahe, Copernicus and Ptolemy each holding elegant demonstration devices for their own particular model of the solar system. I'm not sure who the central figure is--perhaps just a generic philosophe.
Here's the frontispiece to Galileo's which features Copernicus at right and the seated figure as Aristotle, which bears some fleeting resemblance to the figure above.
Galileo's Dialogo (1632) was the open invitation to trouble that Galileo no doubt expected and then famously received, the work being a defense of the Copernican system which at the time of regressive church wisdom posed a direct threat to Catholic belief systems. In the frontis to this work we again see some old friends, finding Aristotle, Copernicus and Ptolemy beautifully (and with realistic old-man slumpiness) portrayed by Stefan della Bella.
(The full title of the Dialogo: Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (Dialogo
sopra i due massimi sistemi del
mondo), in which the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems are described and
compared. Galileo almost worked within the Vatican’s matrix necessitating a balanced
presentation between the different systems, and evidently did so enough for the book to become a best seller, but
its ride on the list of the Vatican’s
banned (“Prohibited”) books lasted until 1835.
Details of the portraits in "continued reading" section below.
Cornelius Duplicius Scepper (1500-1555) not only presented a beautiful book for publication in 1523--it was a work of deep scholarship, and it was edgy. Not skeptically-edgy, but a scientific-presentation-edgy, dismissive-via-the-facts-edgy.
The book (only two copies of which are found in libraries worldwide--at Brown and Oxford--though an online version is found here), Assertionis fidei adversus astrologos, sive signicationibus coniunctionum superiorum planetarum anni millesimi quingentesimi vicesimi quarti, was published in Antwerp for Franc. Byrckman on 16 May 1523. (The colophon at end describes the publication data so: "Symon Cocus, & Gerardus Nicolaus ... excudebant. Anno salutis humanæ MD.XXIII die xvi Maij. Impensis honesti viri Francisci Byrckmā ...")
The book evidently takes great and scholarly pains to point out any number of errors in miscalculations by astrologers, the weight of which and the diligence in historical presentation amounted to the book being a refutation of the claims of astrology. Among his many refutations is one that is quite simple and elegant: Scepper figures out that the starry firmament is at least 65 million miles from Earth, which means that the great vault is deeper and bigger still, and so given the size and the distance and the number of elements involved, it would be asking quite a bit of common sense to believe that all of that was having an effect upon the individual lives of Earthlings. Pretty good stuff for almost 500 years ago.
And just for the fun of it, here's a compilation video of tasty astrology debunkers, including Sagan, Dawkins, Tyson, Nye and Randi. Actually the James Randi part at about 4 minutes is absolutely priceless.
Scepper also wrote a biography/history of Charles V: Rerum á Carolo V. Caesare Avgvsto in Africa bello gestarum commentarij elegantissimis iconibus ad historiam accommodis illustrati. Authorum elenchum, è quorum monumentis hoc opus constat, sequens pagella indicabit in 1555.
"...stars...Numerous, and every star perhaps a world Of destined habitations"--Milton, Paradise Lost (1668)
In spite of a fairly long (if not light) and ancient history, it seems as though Christian Huygens might have thought more to the shaping of extraterrestrial life than any writer to his time. [The idea of extraterrestrial life is very old, stretching far back into Hindu cosmology, and even deep into the (eighteen worlds) of the Talmud. Thales, Anaximander, Democritus, Aristole, Ptolemy all thought about and agreed on the possibilities of life being lived on places other than the Earth--infintely more life, in the case of Epicurus. Bruno, Copernicus, Fontenelle, Henry More, and Cyrano de Bergerac.] In a way, in a Asimovian way of rules, Huygens may have laid out the first real template for describing what life-not-on-Earth might look like. And in the long run, he finds that the possibilities for life Elsewhere are enormously high (and not in doubt in any way), and that it should in no way be any lesser life-formed than what we know here on Earth--and that includes "life" in all of its great complexities.
[One of the few images made during this time or earlier on the possibilities of world systems outside our own appeared in Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle--who almost but not quite gets there in his 1682 book Entretriens sur la pluralite des mondes, as follows, though it really has not much at all to do directly with Huygens:]
Huygens (1629-1695) worked across many fields, including astronomy, biology, math and physics, and was extraordinarily productive, making numerous contributions in the physical and theoretical areas, as well as being a prolific author and correspondant. But towards the end of his relatively short life (he died at age 56) Huygens embarked down the science fiction road in pre-science fiction days, writing a wonderful and provocative book entitled Cosmotheoros, The Celestial World Discover'd: or, Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets (available online in English here) where he establishes the groundwork of this extraterretrial life. (The book was nearly published during Huygens' lifetime, but it didn't quit ework out; left to his brother to published, he, too died before the book was finally in print in 1698. Shortly after the Latin edition of the Cosmotheoro was published by the The Hague publisher Adriaan Moetjens, translations appeared in English (1698) and in Dutch (1699). In the following years, translations also appeared in French (1702), German (1703), Russian (1717) and in Swedish (1774).)
Hugens set out his description by arguing that extraterrestrial existence of life is perfectly in keeping with the Bible, and that his"conjectures are not useless" or "overcurious", and that are justified in and of themselves as a useful pursuit because of the display of logic in his arguments. He states that the inherent sinfulness and "villany" of man on Earth does not perclude life elsewhere, and these lifeforms coul dbe everywhere else, and no different from our own, with no differences in ability to reason and explore. Lifeforms exist much like us, with at least five senses (and here Huygens makes an interesting play for more-than-give senses, though he doesn't understand what they might be), and are capable of all of the supporting capacities for enjoying astronomy, and logic, mathematics, physik, arithmatic, and all of the rest, including all possible skills that could be called upon in the production of instruments of science necessary to pursue any endeavor, and all enjoyed in a society as expectently rich as any on Earth, enjoying all of their plants and animal lifeforms, all of their own creations and the rest of the creations of Nature, all while listening to a universe-wide application of music ("everywhere immutably the same", which Huygens states beautifully here:)
“It's the same with Musick as with Geometry, it's every where immutably the same, and always will be so. For all Harmony consists in Concord, and Concord is all the World over fixt according to the same invariable measure and proportion. So that in all Nations the difference and distance of Notes is the same, whether they be in a continued gradual progression, or the voice makes skips over one to the next. Nay very credible Authors report, that there's a sort of Bird in America, that can plainly sing in order six musical Notes: whence it follows that the Laws of Musick are unchangeably fix'd by Nature, and therefore the same Reason holds valid for their Musick, as we even now proposed for their Geometry"--(page 86)
Cosmotheoros' pages are filled with such reasoned arguments--remarkably so for the end of the 17th century, barely 90 years after the great publication of Galileo and 40 aftre the work of Hooke (in exploring infinities at the other end of the optic scale).
I've included some interesting parts from Book One of the Cosmotheoros; the subject/section headings are in red, and the page number (which usually appears mid-sentence) is related as . Huygens occasionally referes to the other non-Earth life forms as "Planetarians". Here's a sample:
By 1610 Galileo had produced his fifth and most powerful telescope, allowing things to be seen one thousand times closer than ever before, using it to make enormous discoveries–discoveries so big in fact that their towering significance is a bit hard to understand today in the context of early 17th century knowledge. It was all published in his fantastic Sidereus Nuncius on March 4, 1610—the extraordinary tale told in the very title page of the book, proclaiming some of the great discoveries of Galileo’s adventure.
One monumental outcome of Galileo’s work was expanding the number of stars in the sky, which was basically mucking around with the perfect plan of the Creator–formerly a cornerstone for the existence of a divine being. With the exception of comets and eclipses the sky had remained immutable, a perfect score of the creator’s creation, until 1572, when Tycho Brahe noticed something new in Cassiopeia, something that was not a comet—a “something” that was a star. This was momentous because the night sky had been seen for centuries as being complete—a new star, the Nova of Brahe, contradicted this high belief, offering the possibilities of newness where there had not been one previously. And so too with Kepler’s new star of 1602. But it is with Galileo that all of this newness really finds a firm footing, challenges to the religious basis for belief in the heavens and all, not to mention the great amount of new scientific data presented in the pages of Sidereus Nuncius--it was the first time any scientific data had been published that was collected through the use of a telescope, and pictured such extraordinary things as the mountainous surface of the Moon, a view of our Milky Way, several moons of Jupiter, and other fantastic wonders.
The very full title page reads: The Starry Messenger, great and very wonderful spectacles, and offering them to the consideration of every one, but especially of philosophers and astronomers; which have been observed by Galileo Galilei … by the assistance of a perspective glass lately invented by him; namely, in the face of the moon, in innumerable fixed stars in the milky-way, in nebulous stars, but especially in four planets which revolve round Jupiter at different intervals and periods with a wonderful celerity.
[Galileo Galilei. Sidereus Nuncius (known in English as Starry Messenger), published 1610.]
Etienne Leopold Trouvelot (1823-1895) was an ex-pat Frenchmen who settled in Medford ("Don't Pronounce the First D") Massachusetts, and who became a very highly accomplished and deeply skilled astronomical observer and astro-illustrator. (I've included a suite of fifteen of his most accomplished works below, all found in greater detail via their links from their source at the NY Public Library Digital Collections.)
Trouvelot covered the spectrum in his art and photography--in addition to making photographs of the deeply settled but still open-to-mystery astronomical objects, he also was the photographer of extremely intransient things. Among the later are some fantastic images that he made of high-voltage electrical discharges (images of which I found initially at the blog Translinguisitic Order).
The image above is an example of that work, despite it looking like something rather deep-space-y, it is decidedly terrestrial--it is an image that he made of a discharge from either a Ruhmkorff coil or Wimshurst machine, and was produced ca, 1888/9. It was a signature accomplishment, like photographing lightning or making an atlas of clouds, a watermark of sorts in a decade of photographic highpoint contributions in the sciences. (Some of these accomplishments were found in the work of Etienne Marey, who was able to isolate action in a continuous series of photographic still images, which for its time revealed shocking results. Not only did the Marey work display the magnificence of motion, it also provided just about the first opportunity in the history of people to show the action in reverse.)
Trouvelot's drawing of a meteor shower, which I know has a very certain biological feel to it:
Caption from NYPL: "Image ID: trouvelot_012. The November meteors. As observed between midnight and 5 o'clock A.M. on the night of November 13-14 1868. (1881-1882)
And this spectacular image of the "Great Nebula in Orion" as it used to be called in some textbooks, now better known as Messier 42 or M42 or NCG 1976, which was and probably still may be one of the closest scrutinized things in the sky. It was recognized first perhaps by Niclas Claude F de Peirsec in 1610, with the first published account following in 1618 by Cysatus of Lucerne, though it didn't get any real traction until it fell into the hands of Christian Huygens (1656) who also published the first image of the big bright spot in the middle of the sword of Orion in 1659. (This is a little off-target but I like the historical end of the story.)
And just for the sake of it, the Messier drawing:
And Andrew Commons' photograph of the nebula in 1883 was a great improvement over our old friend Henry Draper's 1880 groundbreaking attempt:
It is still a little bit of a mystery to me that it took another two decades or so for people to consider that first photo (above) as "art"--perhaps it was the classification of the work as "scientific" and therefore not-necessarily-art, but folks surely made use of this and the Marey and other scientific photography of the 1880's in their art of the 19-teens. Trouvelot never lived to see it, though; and perhaps it wouldn't've made sense to him. I just don't know.
It is also amusing that for this great "finder" the root of the first half of his name in French is "find".
The full suite of fifteen images by Trouvelot, below, all thumbnails from NYPL:
The theme of the children of the planets was a relatively popular one, and depending upon the planet, stretches back pretty deeply in western European time. For example, for Children of Saturn, the children born under the astrological influence of the planet, was a subject of artwork reaching back at least into the 14th century, and then finding particular favor (or so it seems to me) among Flemish (like Hemessen, Saenredam) and German (Burgkmair, Pencz) painters.
I was attracted to the following wood engravings by Georg Pencz (ca.1500-1550) and the work published by Gabriele Giolito de Ferrari (1508-1578) because of their detail, and also because of the closeness and similarity in their design. Giolito was an important publisher, and put out some of the earliest works in Italy in the vernacular. I know more about Pencz, though, who is more attractive to me because of his extremely find hand and the size (or rather lack of it) of his work. He was one of the so-called "Little Masters", the artists who were influenced by Albrect Durer and whose work showed it, and who also worked very, very small ( as with Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538), Sebald Beham (1500-1550), and Barthel Beham (1502-1540), for example). He may have been a pupil and/or worker in the studio of Durer, or maybe not--but his work certainly showed the influence of the great artist. His later work, too, I think shows the influence of the Italian painters, and Pencz may or may not have visited Italy to study them, the case being not so very clear. In any event, whether he traveled to Italy or not or worked directly with Durer or not, his work certainly shows the influence of both even if there is no proof of a paper trail.
The Life of the Children of the Sun, published by the Italian publisher Gabriele Giolito de Ferrari, and said to be in the year 1533. I've not yet been able to find the book's title or the author's name--a task that on the face of it seemed simple--and hope to be able to do this, soon. The other images are from Folge der Planeten in which the wood engravings of Georg Pencz appear.
And so the series of images depictng the children of the Sun, Moon, and Chaldean planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, as they progressed towards their middle-life, and in their chosen professions as mythologically influenced by their planet.
Life of the Children of the Moon, by Georg Pencz (1500-1550), in the Folge der Planeten.
In 1869 Edward Everett Hale (author of "A Man WIthout a Country" in 1863 and also one of the earliest pieces of fiction regarding alternative worlds in"Hands Off" in 1883) wrote a piece of speculative fiction called "The Brick Moon", a story told int he form of a journal of Capt. Frank Ingham, relating the story of the launching of a satellite that was to be an aid to navigation. The construction was fantastic--a sphere made of concentric rings of brick enclosed by an outer layer of brick, reaching 200 feet in diameter, to be hurled into space by two gigantic flywheels on a polar orbit 4,000 miles high, providing a new bright shining star as a means of determining longitude.
"Any section through any diameter looked like an immense rose-window, of six circles grouped round a seventh. In truth, each of these sections would reveal the existence of seven chambers in the moon,—each a sphere itself,—whose arches gave solidity to the whole; while yet, of the whole moon, the greater part was air. In all there were thirteen of these moonlets, if I am so to call them; though no one section, of course, would reveal so many. Sustained on each side by their groined arches, the surface of the whole moon was built over them and under them,—simply two domes connected at the bases. The chambers themselves were made lighter by leaving large, round windows or open circles in the parts of their vaults farthest from their points of contact, so that each of them looked not unlike the outer sphere of a Japanese ivory nest of concentric balls. You see the object was to make a moon, which, when left to its own gravity, should be fitly supported or braced within. Dear George was sure that, by this constant repetition of arches, we should with the least weight unite the greatest strength. I believe it still, and experience has proved that there is strength enough." [Full story here.]
[Image source: here, from the Encyclopedia of Science website.]
Getting the enormous and fantastically heavy "moon" not only off the ground but into space would be an enormous and fantastic mystery--solved here by Hale by the thing being "left to its own gravity" and the two giant flywheels.
It was in this story, published in serial form in the Atlantic Monthly, that the idea of the artificial satellite was introduced. Actually, it was also more than that, because a foul-up caused an early launch of the sphere, launching it into orbit with people on board, making it the first space station. And it was certainy the first collection of space bricks. Of course this took an enormous leap of imagination and insight, and Hale's effort must be applauded as a visionary work.
This slender 1946 Dutch publication proved a little irresistable--the cover looked very loud, very red, and very accelerating-y, and was the only thing about the booklet that I could understand, though I really don't understand that, either.
I went over to Google Patents to see what a "Mars" search might unveil, and it lead me not necessarily logically to the following patent, which seems to me to be quite a playable astronomy game, with all of the necessaries found in the text of the document. I'm not so sure that the game would be "fun" per se, but, well, it could be played. And perhaps someone might learn something from it. [Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, here.]
I found this illustration browsing Owen Gingrich's (editor) Astrophysics and twentieth century astronomy (Cambridge 1984) , and found it fascinating. The telescope was designed and built by Andrew Ainslie Common (1841-1903, a wealthy engineer and amateur astronomer), and it was a 155 cm/5-foot reflector, and had a flotation mounting. This sort of mounting seems at least unusual to me, though one of Common's earlier telescopes used a mercury flotation system. It was finished in 1889 and replaced a very fine 91cm instrment, both of which were constructed mostly for astrophotographical service. The 155cm didn't really perform, ever, whereas the earlier and smaller instrument certainly did. (Following its service with Common, the 91cm went on to Edward Crossley in 1885m and was then used by James Keeler in 1893, and then by Charles Perrine.) I found the large-ish reservoir in use for keeping stutter and vibration away from the telescope to be very intriguing. It was purchased by Harvard University around 1905, and was moved and again a flotation mounting was employed. (The article on the telescope's purchase is located below, taken from the Harvard Crimson of 5 April 1905.)
In a post last week in the Strange Things in the Sky department: the Exploding Moon, I mentioned that images of the Earth's Moon actually exploding seem to be quite uncommon. The ever-observant Ray Girvan wrote to say that the Moon does just that in the 2002 remake of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, when Earth's lunar mining operations disrupt it so that it makes the Moon disintegrate, raining parts of itself on Earth.
And it just so happens that I stumbled on another odd image of the Moon coming to its end: a mention of a drawing by Thomas Voter, showing the Moon disintegrating under the force of the Earth's gravity. It appears in the November, 1939 issue of Popular Mechanics in the "Explorers of Space" article.
And then, on the next page of the magazine appears another image of the breaking Moon by Wallace Favereau, this also showing bits of the Moon slamming into the Earth.
Thomas Voter's illustrations led me to his image showing Boy Scouts flying on their odd destiny to the Moon for a rendezvous with Post-War Moon Nazis in what is a surprising juvie novel by Robert Heinlein, Rocket Ship Galileo (1947). [Image courtesy of the excellent Roborant site, well worth a visit and bookmark, here.] The three boy-rocket-experimenters are on their way their with their Nobelist uncle, piloting a thorium-fueled mail rocket that the Manhattan Project Uncle was able to rig up for interplanetary adventures, which gets them to a nuke-war-ravaged-Moon with victorious commanding Nazis over whom the intrepid travelers eventually triumph. This really has nothing to do with exploding or disintegrating Moons, but finding a reference to Moon Nazis does classify as a strange-thing-in-the-sky. evidently the story is much disparaged by modern readers, though the author of Roborant feels as though there is a much greater depth to the story that the possible high-comic storyline implies.
It looks like there is a sub-genre for Evil Alien Space Nazis in books and film, but I just can't go any further with the topic.