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Book Reviews


The Telescope - A Short History
Author: Richard Dunn

Publisher: Natural History Museum

ISBN: 978-1-906367-04-6

Price: £12.99 (Hb), 192pp


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Conceding that the court is still out on pre-1600 allusions to far-seeing devices, this book quickly moves to the firmer ground of the seventeenth century invention, aware that prior optical experimentation had been rife for many years, including, we discover, work by Galileo himself. Almost immediately improvements to this new device were sought, by some measures very strange to today’s standards, including tubeless varieties. Robert Hooke built a giant vertical column (London’s ‘Great Fire’ commemorative ‘Monument’), whilst at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, while John Flamsteed went in the opposite direction by mounting a lens at the aperture of a well!

We are reminded, too, that early telescopic observations were not entirely welcomed. They not only challenged the accepted dogma of the natural world but also the mores of its still widely accepted sister science, astrology. There ensues a story of endeavour familiar to every astronomer today: the acquisition of steadily larger apertures and focal length, overcoming along the way those aberrations that optics seem delighted to provide. In this pursuit we move through the age of the great aerial refractors of Hevelius and Huygens to the behemoth reflectors of Herschel and beyond. As we tread steadily towards the end of the nineteenth century, Dunn expertly traces the growing technical abilities of telescopes together with fascinating tales and insights of the men who used them.

Despite its obvious application to astronomy, the author is at pains to point out that the telescope quickly invaded every aspect of human activity – practical and cultural – even becoming a fashion accessory. Allusions in literature appear almost immediately after its invention. Writing a humorous poem about the fictitious gift of a telescope and wine from Galileo, Niccolo Aggiunti writes (in about 1630) that the optical device enlarged images whilst the wine multiplied them!

The book ends with a look at modern telescopes (including Hubble) whilst examining their role in modern culture. A thorough history and a grand read!

Steve Ringwood

2009 Yearbook
This 132-page special edition features the ultimate observing guide for 2009, a review of all the biggest news stories of 2008, in depth articles covering all aspects of astronomy and space missions for 2009, previews of International Year of Astronomy events and much, much more.
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Infinity Rising
This special publication features the photography of British astro-imager Nik Szymanek and covers a range of photographic methods from basic to advanced. Beautiful pictures of the night sky can be obtained with a simple camera and tripod before tackling more difficult projects, such as guided astrophotography through the telescope and CCD imaging.
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Exploring Mars
Astronomy Now is pleased to announce the publication of Exploring Mars. The very best images of Mars taken by orbiting spacecraft and NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers fill up the 98 glossy pages of this special edition!
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Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
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