If you have never heard of the Herschels, then you are missing out on the most important astronomers of the 18 th and 19 th Century. William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus, together with his able and dedicated sister Caroline and his erudite son John revealed the Milky Way and its diverse contents as never before. Through careful visual observations with their giant telescopes, this dynastic dynamo bore witness to a multitude of dancing double stars, incandescent nebulae, and the Milky Way itself. Today, we inherit from them the picture of a disk-like galaxy which contains our Solar System and countless other stellar systems. This book review by Endicott College student Todd Stelling provides a fine introduction to Michael Lemonick’s lively portrait of the Herschels and their cosmic discoveries.
For several years, Prof. Alaa Ibrahim (Observatory Director at the Zewail City of Science and Technology) has been taking his students out of the teeming metropolis of Giza and into the deep desert. Their destination, Wadi Al-Hitan National Park, is best known for its amazing fossils of ancient whales that roamed this area some 40 million years ago, when much of Egypt was completely under water. The remoteness of this site also endows the place with night skies that are essentially free of light pollution. For many of Prof. Ibrahim’s students, this venture into the desert was their first opportunity to view planets, constellations, and the Milky Way in a pristine dark sky. With the aid of large portable telescopes that were deployed on-site, they also got to view star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. These combined experiences were in many ways transformative to the students. I hope that you will find their personal reflections (below) as heartwarming and inspiring as I do. – William H. Waller
Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke and Robert Heinlein are usually counted as the Big Three of science fiction, amongst the most influential writers in the field. They all were early protégés of the legendary John Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction and were the faces of the Golden Age of Science Fiction when technology was supreme and it was clear that we were headed to the stars.
Amateur telescopes can reveal thousands of other galaxies in those sections of the sky that are sufficiently far from the Milky Way’s congested disk. The digital images of elliptical, spiral, irregular, and interacting galaxies that these “citizen scientists” can now obtain surpass the best images obtained professionally just 25 years ago.