Vintage Durango: When telescopes became trustworthy

by Patty Templeton

Today, you can buy a telescope for under a hundo that packs more power than the one Galileo used to examine the sky. You can peer at the planets with more efficacy than the man who first studied sun spots, discovered four of Jupiter’s moons, and found that Earth’s moon was a bumpy, uneven world.

By the 1880s, telescopes had been around for over 200 years. People no longer worried that scientific discoveries of the heavens were a trick of the lenses. Part of this trust curve was the invention of better instruments. Completed in 1878 and displayed in the Durango Herald in 1887, The Grubb Refractor Telescope at the University of Vienna was the largest built, up till then. It was equipped with photographic apparatus that could create more exact images than previous space-mapping technology, i.e. hand-drawing.

Theoretical physicist and mathematician Henri Poincare said, “Astronomy is useful because it raises us above ourselves; it is useful because it is grand.” The fabulousness of the cosmos as seen through giant telescopes became a pop culture phenomenon that wouldn’t be as deeply felt again until the space races of the 1960s.

Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer

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