For more than 2000 years, innovative people have applied their ideas and insights into observing the universe. Unknown thousands of years ago, visual observers named sets of stars from the patterns they saw, sometimes using myths or animals, real or imagined, in their environments for the names. This became a convenience for astrologers and others talking about the sky. Planets were discovered and calendars were invented, and precession was discovered. Even computers and observatories were invented. More than a millennium ago, the first instruments for measuring star positions were invented. Used for surveying and navigation, improvements on these instruments and the developments of new ones led to new discoveries, especially when combined with new mathematical methods for calculation.
The invention of the telescope changed everything. Mountains and craters were visible on the Moon. Those moving points in the sky turned out not to be… worlds(?)! With moons! Telescopes and their mounts were improved, new inventions were adapted, and new methods of observation were applied to old and new problems by astronomers. The spectroscope, chemical photography, and the use of electricity and electronics literally opened up the universe to astronomers.
Continuing innovation on a variety of fronts has led to the present day, and a few years hence, with giant optical telescopes and other telescopes across and outside the electromagnetic spectrum. We can now see nearly to the edge of the visible universe and study processes occurring in the first few minutes of its existence. Amateur astronomers have not been left behind and benefit by many of the same innovations used by the professional community.
Innovations span the spectrum of invention, ideas, analysis, new applications of old and new technology, and even other astronomical discoveries. Learn how innovations have led to many famous, and not so famous but just as important, discoveries about the Solar System, the Galaxy, and the universe around us.
Speaker: Steve Edberg, retired astronomer
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