Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Thomas Harriot: A Telescopic Astronomer Before Galileo

Date:
January 15, 2009
Source:
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS)
Summary:
This year the world celebrates the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009), marking the 400th anniversary of the first drawings of celestial objects through a telescope. This first has long been attributed to Galileo Galilei, the Italian who went on to play a leading role in the 17th century scientific revolution. But astronomers and historians in the UK are keen to promote a lesser-known figure, English polymath Thomas Harriot, who made the first drawing of the Moon through a telescope several months earlier, in July 1609.

Thomas Harriot's map of the whole Moon. This image accurately depicts many lunar features including the principal Maria (lunar 'seas' - actually lava-filled basins) and craters. Labelled features include Mare Crisium ('18') on the right hand side and the craters Copernicus ('b') and Kepler ('c') in the upper left of the disk.
Credit: Copyright Lord Egremont

This year the world celebrates the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009), marking the 400th anniversary of the first drawings of celestial objects through a telescope. This first has long been attributed to Galileo Galilei, the Italian who went on to play a leading role in the 17th century scientific revolution. But astronomers and historians in the UK are keen to promote a lesser-known figure, English polymath Thomas Harriot, who made the first drawing of the Moon through a telescope several months earlier, in July 1609.

In a paper to be published in Astronomy and Geophysics, the journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), historian Dr Allan Chapman of the University of Oxford explains how Harriot not only preceded Galileo but went on to make maps of the Moon’s surface that would not be bettered for decades.

Harriot lived from 1560 to 1621. He studied at St Mary’s Hall (now part of Oriel College), Oxford, achieving his BA in 1580 before becoming a mathematical teacher and companion to the explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. In the early 1590s Raleigh fell from royal favour and was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

From this time Harriot was passed to the patronage of Henry Percy, the Ninth Earl of Northumberland who was himself imprisoned as one of the Gunpowder Plotters in 1605 but continued to support Harriot in his residence at Sion (now Syon) Park, in what is now west London. Harriot became a leading force in mathematics, working on algebraic theory and corresponding with scientists in the UK and across Europe.

By 1609, Harriot had acquired his first ‘Dutch trunke’ (telescope). He turned it towards the Moon on 26 July, becoming the first astronomer to draw an astronomical object through a telescope. The crude lunar sketch shows a rough outline of the lunar terminator (the line marking the division between night and day on the Moon, as seen from the Earth) and includes a handful of features like the dark areas Mare Crisium, Mare Tranquilitatis and Mare Foecunditatis.

Harriot went on to produce further maps from 1610 to 1613. Not all of these are dated, but they show an increasing level of detail. By 1613 he had created two maps of the whole Moon, with many identifiable features such as lunar craters that crucially are depicted in their correct relative positions. The earliest telescopes of the kind used by Harriot (and Galileo) had a narrow field of view, meaning that only a small portion of the Moon could be seen at any one time and making this work all the more impressive. No better maps would be published for several decades.

Despite his innovative work, Harriot remains relatively unknown. Unlike Galileo, he did not publish his drawings. Dr Chapman attributes this to his comfortable position as a ‘well-maintained philosopher to a great and wealthy nobleman’ with a generous salary (somewhere between £120 and £600 per annum or by way of comparison several times the level of the Warden of Wadham College, Oxford). Harriot had comfortable housing and a specially provided observing chamber on top of Sion House, all of which contrasted with Galileo’s financial pressures.

Dr Chapman believes that the time has come to give Harriot the credit he deserves. “Thomas Harriot is an unsung hero of science. His drawings mark the beginning of the era of modern astronomy we now live in, where telescopes large and small give us extraordinary information about the Universe we inhabit.”

Professor Andy Fabian, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, agrees. “As an astrophysicist of the 21st century, I can only look back and marvel at the work of 17th century astronomers like Thomas Harriot. The world is right to celebrate Galileo in the International Year of Astronomy – but Harriot shouldn’t be forgotten!”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "Thomas Harriot: A Telescopic Astronomer Before Galileo." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 January 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090114110948.htm>.
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). (2009, January 15). Thomas Harriot: A Telescopic Astronomer Before Galileo. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090114110948.htm
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "Thomas Harriot: A Telescopic Astronomer Before Galileo." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090114110948.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

East Coast Treated To Rare Meteor Sighting

East Coast Treated To Rare Meteor Sighting

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) — Numerous residents along the East Coast reported seeing a bright meteor flash through the sky Sunday night. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finally Reaches Long-Term Goal

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finally Reaches Long-Term Goal

Newsy (Sep. 15, 2014) — After more than two years, NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover reached Mount Sharp, its long-term destination. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX's Elon Musk Really Wants To Colonize Mars

SpaceX's Elon Musk Really Wants To Colonize Mars

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — Elon Musk has been talking about his goal of colonizing Mars for years now, but how much of it does he actually have figured out, and is it possible? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:  

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile iPhone Android Web
      Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins