Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

More astolabe

Sure, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote instructions on how to use one for his son, but it is so much more fun to watch this video.  Also, there are some modern instructions out there.

I agree with the person who is presenting this that these are really neat, but you can buy some decent repros for not too much money.

Seeking Astrolabes (and other antique scientific instruments)

Given my interest in things stellar, astrolabeI’m not sure how long I have been looking for an Astrolabe.  I do remember walking through London trying to locate one without too much joy (surprise).  The Franklin Mint made one a while back, but that was a limited edition.

They show up on eBay, but the quality is anything from excellent to OK.  Good repros seem to be hard to find.  Although, I did luck into a couple of sources this past weekend.   In fact, I purchased an Astrolabe Arsenius 20 from a place called Antiquus in Madrid, Spain.  Antiquus has a couple of models with the 20 being the larger of the two.

I’ll add that Antiquus also sells other old scientific instruments characterized by their beauty, which is why this is tagged with “zootrope, praxinoscope, phenakistiscope, and taumatrope”. I agree with Antiquus’ goal of keeping these instruments around in replica form, which is why I have put in a link to the shop. The site is in Spanish, but there is an English translated section to the site. Carlos, the owner speaks English and is very friendly.  Antiquus has a smaller model at €96.

Another site,, also sells astrolabes.  The prices between Antiquus and Green Witch are similar, but Antiquus’ Astrolabio Arsenius 20 was less expensive (€169) than the same model at Green Witch (£159).  Green Witch does carry a repro of the astrolabe at the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum in Chicago which was made by Diya’al Din Muhammad for £139.

I’ll give both companies a plug since they carry these items in a couple of different sizes and types.  There are actually a lot of companies that sell astrolabes, but these two are ones that sell the nicer repros on the market.  Not to mention both companies have some interesting gear if you like antique scientific instruments.

I’m going to toss in a third company, Geodus, which is in Germany, for its wide range of choices in astrolabes and price guarantee. Their price on the Adler Planetarium replica is €89.

That said, here is Gryphon’s the Astrologer:

Don’t like Arabs?

Quite a bit of Science comes from Arabic Scholarship: for example, quite a bit of the basis for astronomy came from the Arabs.  As did navigation and mathmatics (e.g., Algebra comes from the Arabic, الجبر al-jabr “restoration”, and much of its methods from Arabic/Islamic mathematics).

A beverage made from the wild coffee plant seems to have been first drunk by a legendary shepherd on the Ethiopian plateau, the earliest cultivation of coffee was in Yemen and Yemenis gave it the Arabic name qahwa, from which our words coffee and cafe both derive.  At first, coffee had been viewed with suspicion in Europe as a Muslim drink, but around 1600 Pope Clement VIII is reported to have so enjoyed a cup that he said it would be wrong to permit Muslims to monopolise it, and that it should therefore be baptised.

Alcohol may have been distilled in c800AD by Jabir Ibn Hayyan from Kufa in Iraq, and our word “alcohol” derives from the Arabic “al kuhul”… many Arab countries, like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco, make wines and beers, even though Islam does not permit the drinking of alcohol

10 borrowed Arabic words

  • The word cheque comes from the Arabic word saqq, and reflects the sophistication of finance in Arab countries in the early middle ages
  • The word algorithm is derived from the name of Abū Abdallah Muḥammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi whose name (al-Khwarizmi) is, in Latin, Algoritmi
  • Cipher comes from Arabic sifr, meaning “zero, naught, nothing”
  • The word for cotton derives from the Arabic qutn
  • Ghoul is an Arabic word for “a desert demon which can appear in different forms and shapes; an ogre or cannibal”
  • The English magazine is a word borrowed from the Arabic makhzan, meaning “storehouse”
  • Nadir has its origin in Arabic nazir, indicating “opposite, facing, parallel”
  • Tamarind refers to Arabic tamr hindi, literally meaning “Indian date”
  • The word safari has its root in the Arabic word safar, which means “journey”
  • Tariff comes from Arabic ta’rif, which means “notification” or “definition”

Posted 19/04/2013 by lacithedog in Arab, Arab Defamation, Arabs, Astronomy

R. I. P. Sir Patrick Moore (1923-2012)

Yes, one of the people who helped popularise astronomy died this afternoon.  I’ll let others say more about him.

I am sad that he is gone.

The worst part of this is that the weather is not right for stargazing tonight.  At least when Neil Armstrong died I could look at the moon through my telescope and a see where he landed.

His politics may have sucked, but he was an interesting person.

See also:

Macho, Macho, Macho Man

I have been musing on the topic of what would American Males do if they didn’t have their guns, but the Commongunsense post “I Almost Died Laughing” pointed out the insanity of US gun culture. Here we have deadly and dangerous weapons which people mistakenly believe is their “right” to own (Sorry, but the Second Amendment right is to belong to a Militia set up according to Article I, Section 8, Clause 16, but few people want THAT right).

A far more productive pastime comes to mind when I go to the DIY Centre. What is more masculine than building things? That is being constructive rather than destructive (although one can demo old buildings to build on them). The pride I feel when I know that I can handle power tools to build projects. Although, it was dangerous when shopping for tools when the sales person said “you could build a deck in an afternoon with that!”

Not within earshot of my wife, please!

Her abode is a Wendy House as is a large,expensive one, but a Wendy House nonetheless! It would be an even more intricate Wendy House with me spending my free time doing that (of course, that is much more productive than blogging).

But the feeling that you made something on your own is far more empowering than shooting a tin can that is unable to shoot back at you.


Of course, there are my other passions, Archaeology and Astronomy. Even playing with a metal detector can be considered archaeology of sorts, although most archaeologists dislike metal detectorists who just dig things up without consideration for what they have found. Metal detectorists have, however, made some significant archaeological finds: I’ve mentioned the the Crosby Garrett Helmet and Terry Herbert’s Anglo-Saxon hoard before.There needs to be archaeological sensitivity on the part of metal detectorists.

There’s trainspotting as well.  That’s much more productive.  I remember a rail journey where I saw both trainspotters and hunters.  The trainspotters were having much more fun with their flasks of tea and anoraks, whilst the hunters were stalking a dear that was several miles from where they were slogging (and would have been a dangerous shot to take).  What’s the fun of spending hours in the cold trying to kill something that eludes you because it is much smarter than you are?

I can think of several commenters who would be much better trainspotters than they are gunslingers.

Or much else for that matter.

Perhaps, that answers my train of thought that these people are incapable of tasks which require complex skills.  Even trainspotting require than one is numerically literate to track which train one has seen (and where).  I can imagine that the gunsels are lost on dry land, let alone trying to look at the heavens to find messier objects.  These pastimes require thought, which is a characteristic sadly missing in the American mind.

Sir Patrick Moore: Stuffy?

For some odd reason, I have this image of Sir Patrick Moore as being stuffy, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Despite the fact that I have seen him as the narrator in Return to the Forbidden Planet.  And we have him giving the Orders to see a production of the play:

He did a very funny parody of himself in the Goodies episode The Goodies Rule–O.K.? as well.

Still, he is somewhat intimidating due to that headmasterish demeanour. Of course, headmasters can have senses of humour, but he is the authority. He is a man who has led more people into astronomy since he started presenting the Sky at Night in 1957–a momentous year in astronomy and space! Perhaps it is the authority that leaves me in awe of him.

I should add that Astronomy Magazine’s (USA) current issue (November 2012) has an Article about Sir Patrick.  The article mentions Sir Patrick’s eccentricity.

The Telegraph reported that “he sometimes wishes he had died 10 years ago because illness means he can no longer operate his telescope”.  There are ways he could use a telescope via a computer, and I am sure there are souls out there who would happily set him up.

Sir Patrick has been a larger than life personage on the Worldwide Astronomy scene and will be missed when that day comes.

I’ll finish this with something from Sir Patrick’s Website.


The deep futility of ephemeral things;
Which stir the soul to unimagined dreams;
Of Brussels sprouts, and spinach in the snow.
The birds’ shrill call in the translucent dawn;
To embryonic beetles, and pale moths;
Which hide their heads in shallow troughs of earth,
Naked and fearful, as the world awakes;
To thought transcendent life, and cosmic death.
The earthworm, crawling to its nameless tomb;
All energy dispersed, to form new creeds;
New auras of the spirits of the wild,
In the deep pool of life, which ceaseless flows;
Through endless time and space, in rhythmic praise;
Of all creative impulses, which dwarf;
The puny concepts of the human mind.
All, all, shall pass into oblivion…

Spitting Image Uranus

Those who know me, know that I am an amateur astronomer (and now an FRAS–Connections!).  It’s Sir Alistair Burnett (yes, ITN, not BBC) reading a News Report about Uranus and the sudden change of name. This Spitting Image sketch was inspired by the Voyager space probe’s approach to a certain outer planet beyond Neptune…

I was also looking in an astronomy magazine where there was an advert that began “Remember the first time you saw Saturn’s rings?”

You wouldn’t have an advert like that about this planet!

Astronomy for Beginners!

One advantage of astronomy over archaeology is that it is a whole lot easier 9and less costly) to get involved in.  Telescopes can be bought fairly cheaply (and run up to the outrageous in price). The BBC has The Sky at Night, and there’s always Brian Cox if Sir Patrick Moore seems too stern for you. Brian Cox is like somebody’s kid brother in a very tall package with all the enthusiasm of a kid about his subject.

Unlike Archaeology, the US has a pretty good astronomy selection on PBS and NPR–especially StarDate. But, the sky has pretty much the same phenomenon, unless it’s something like an eclipse, throughout the world.

So grab a decent telescope or pair of binoculars and a guide such as Terence Dickinson’s NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe and you’re pretty much set to start exploring the skies. If you’re lucky, there are some fellow stargazers near by who you can hook up with to look at the stuff that’s out there. Or find a nearby observatory to learn more.

I’ll give a plug to Orion Telescope as being the best telescope manufacturer from my experience. They have superior customer service and are more than willing to guide you to the best telescope for your needs. They have videos about choosing your telescope as well. There is an Orion Optics in the UK which also sells world wide. I’m not sure of the connection between the two companies, but the US company is incredibly helpful and has a reputation for superior customer service.

Anyway,  this was a very rough draft, but I am putting this up since the Sky at Night’s latest episode is on this topic: Home-Grown Observatories.  The team visited various backgarden astronomers, which is pretty much what this is about!  And since I am on the topic of homegrown observatories, I have to recommend this page as a resource if you want to have more than just a telescope in your backgarden!  Not to mention the person who did that page’s observatory, which is just downright cool.

BBC Space
NPR Space