We've been spending time in Brussels with our friend David, and something showed up in the mail today! An Omegon Pro Carbon-Fiber tripod!
Remember when we teamed up with Omegon back in Munich? They noticed how we've been hauling heavy duty telescope equipment across the continent, and offered to donate a smaller tripod to the cause!
It's made of carbon fiber, lightweight at only 1.3 kg. The tripod legs are a series of four twist locks, which are easily deployed in a couple of seconds. Fully extended, the tripod stands 1.5 meters tall! It's the perfect piece of hardware for a tour, and it's already giving me new ideas for more astronomy related travel.
Sidewalk astronomers need lightweight equipment to make their treks across the city. I can't wait to get this guy deployed on the next clear night. We will probably see it in action once we reach Antwerp.
Kilometers cycled: 105
About two years, ago, my friend David from Belgium visited Philadelphia for a weekend. He found me set up on the corner of 4th and South with a pair of binoculars. It was in Philadelphia that he met his first flat-earther "in real life". In the same night, he actually met quite a few more. That night, I was able to show him the moons of Jupiter, the four famous points of light all in a straight line. Tonight, we visit him, and take a trip together to his local observatory a few towns over.
Tonight, another observatory! Grimbergen Volkssterrenwacht is one of Belgium's public observatories. This is an astronomy venture run by three people - their mission is to broadcast science to the public and especially to children. Phillippe is at the door as we arrive, and greets us "These guys look like they come from Philadelphia!"
Phillippe says we are only a few miles away from the largest planetarium in Belgium. It helps to have a planetarium for communicating astronomy, but it also helps to have something different. He shows us a "constellation clock". On this massive circular wheel, the milky way and all the stars visible from Belgium are painted. Each constellation is lit up by a button on an old-fashioned control box. The technology is Thomas Edison: push a button, complete a circuit, and the stars of that constellation will light up. On this wall, there are over 1,200 individual stars drilled into the device, and the stars were chosen to represent as accurately as possible what you can actually see in Belgium under the influence of light pollution.
As we venture upstairs, we pass by a number of murals that help depict the scale of the Solar System and the Universe. If the earth is the size of a baseball, then you can only fit a small fraction of the sun on the wall, from floor to high ceiling.
At the end of the tour, we reach the inner Sanctum, where the other astronomers are hanging out and drinking coffee. One astronomer, Chris, is working at his computer on a Virtual Reality replica of the Apollo 11 mission. You can listen to the radio recordings, sit inside the cockpit, and watch as the rocket orbits the moon and experiences an Earthrise. The entire experience is so detailed, I can't wait until people see it with goggles on!
To end the night, our friend David looks at Jupiter through a 50 cm telescope. I easily notice the red spot, but we are reminded that right now Jupiter sits so low on the horizon that its best secrets are washed out by the atmosphere, and are invisible to any telescope.
David meets the Moon Men in Philadelphia, looks through a Galileo-sized instrument, and then two years later, he sees the same object through a telescope large enough to climb inside.
Galileo didn't invent the telescope. Actually, he was far from the first person to own one - records show that even the Pope probably had one before he did! What was different was the high magnification of his instrument.
All of this started because of a 1608 patent application by Hans Lipperhey for a spyglass "with which one can see all things very far away as if they were nearby". Through the combination of two lenses, he achieved magnifications between 3X to 4X. Lipperhey wrote to the noblemen in The Hague, and was invited to demonstrate his instrument, capable of "seeing all things very far away as if they were nearby". Two weeks later, at least two more people came forward claiming they had also invented the telescope. Immediately, people all over the continent understood the wartime advantage of owning one, for example: counting the number of archers stationed at a wall before your siege begins. So there were a wealth of pre-Galilean telescopes - Galileo's contribution was his improvement to high powered optics (21X magnification), and his consistent, detailed observations of the sky, which he conducted in the years 1609 and 1610.
Today we are visiting Sterrenwacht Middelburg, situated around the corner from the home where Lipperhey invented his spyglass. Middelburg is known worldwide as the birthplace of this invention. The observatory houses some powerful instruments as well as some important ones. Rijk-Jan, one of the astronomers, invited us for some coffee and to share a conversation about sidewalk astronomy. The Dutch people are overall very familiar with astronomy. The University at Leiden exports astronomers all over the world. SterrenWacht Middelburg does a number of events outside town hall: with Dobsonians, with solar telescopes: the best time to show someone the Universe is when they are simply walking by.
A small room houses a 16" Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain, staring out the window toward the southern sky. Unfortunately due to its location, the window overlooks some lights and windows which must ruin the astronomy. That's when Rijk-Jan shows me something I've never seen before. He flips a circuit breaker on an electrical box next to the telescope, and every street lamp in view of the telescope simply turns off! Astronomers who are reading, imagine the trust and opportunity to work so closely with town officials for that!
The Philly Moon Men advocate about light pollution, and actually, due to its dense population, the Netherlands has some of the worst light pollution in all of Europe. Its cities are comparable to New York or Philadelphia. Still, in the smaller town of Middelburg, the constellations are visible.
Rijk-Jan takes us to display cases with mannequins of Galileo and Hans Lepperhey. He opens up the display with his key, and robs the mannequin of his prop. The prop is actually a French refractor built in the year 1690. He allows us to hold it, and shows us some features of its design. The telescope has a third lens inside, called a field lens, that provides an upright image to the user. With a field lens inside a telescope, if you look at mountains, the mountains are not upside-down. The field lens is removeable as well, so that the telescope can be used at night-time in low light conditions.
We return to the coffee shop, and Rijk-Jan gives us a book that will turn me into a quick expert on telescopes. A thick text "The Origins of the Telescope", filled with all the evidence and debate of just how this important device came into existence. Thank you to all the astronomers at SterrenWacht Middelburg for helping us with our education!
Next we walk outside to the old foundations of Lipperhey's home. From this site, we use the old French refractor to look at the wind vane on top of the Abbey, just as, according to legend, Hans Lipperhey did over 400 years ago. The refractor in Rijk-Jan's hand represents already 80 years of innovation over Lipperhey's invention. The field of view is quite small, but the clarity of the image is surprising, with a bit of chromatic aberration but nothing that gets in the way of making an observation.
Feeling inspired, Rijk-Jan decides to take the ancient telescope home for an evening, and make a sketch of the telescope.
The next time you visit a science museum and see a telescope hanging in a display case, remember that it probably still works!
Rotterdam -> Vlissingen
Kilometers Cycled: 110
Actually, I wouldn't recommend it - every night, we stay up until 3am, then sleep for a few hours before cycling to our next destination. A bicycle tour on its own is tiring!
From Rotterdam, we head south along the coast. All of Netherlands is a single bike lane, paved with stone. The street signals are designed to inform exactly who has the right of way, and there are no stop signs, only "don't hit the bicycles". The bicycles are the stop signs.
Halfway through our trip, the wind picks up. Against the wind, it's a struggle to maintain 15 km/h. In the other direction, it's easy to cruise at over 25 km/h. We know this because and one point we had to turn around and detour! We pass underneath towering wind farms, the shadows of the blades crashing onto the roadway.
Our ride took us across the famous dike system, that protects the Netherlands from the Atlantic Ocean. These structures are massive, and looking at them from a distance makes you feel like you are in the future.
The wind created a long day's trip for us, but as soon as we arrive, our host Froukje was preparing dinner under the windmill. The miller, who runs the windmill, brings us inside, and shows us wooden gears twirling under wind power, same as they did 320 years ago. From the rumbling of the building, you can feel the strength of the wind acting on the three-story long sails. This mill was used to grind grain into a fine powder, and explains how the workers would adjust their tools to the speed of the wind. Minute to minute, you can hear the gears speeding up or slowing down. Then, the miller walks over to a rope system, and with one hand, stops the entire show. A clever system of wood and friction holds the windmill still. Pulling the rope the other way, the windmill is free, and instantly it begins to turn in the wind.
Neighborhood kids put up posters for the Moon Men, and she had invited the entire town to come see our telescope in front of the windmill. Barbequed pizza, potato salad, and a sunset on the Atlantic ocean. By the time we are finished eating, we have quite a crowd to entertain. Froukje was so excited to share the telescope, she figured that giving all the townspeople a chance to meet each other would be a good thing, it would help people come together to understand each other.
Jupiter is high enough in the sky that we can view it as soon as twilight dwindles, which is right now a bit after 10 pm. Close to midnight, Saturn is ready as well, and we spend the evening toggling back and forth between the two planets. Everyone sees Jupiter's moons, everyone has more questions. It is like a hero's welcome for the town to come out and take a look. Hey, if you know a bunch of people who have never looked through a telescope before, we want to visit you!
Cycling into the Cool District of Rotterdam (it is really called the cool district), we find a nightlife area just like South Street. Lots of people dressed up, having fun, an endless line of cars looking for parking. Every restaraunt has its own lights, there are bright street lights, signs and ads. It feels just as bright and just as alive (except that everything is made of stone).
While Brendan works the telescope, I start counting the number of light bulbs you can see from the corner. Immediately there are too many, but I try to count. After roughly fifteen minutes I have an answer: 250 light bulbs.
I see four different categories of lighting:
-Pancake shaped sodium lamps
-Warm reddish LED
Of these, the first three types put spots in my eyes if I looked at them for even a second! I'm thinking it can't be good to have spots in your eyes all the time.
A lot of people ask us, isn't this a horrible place to do astronomy? It is! But we have to meet the people where they are, we can't send out an invitation and hope that everyone joins us at the observatory. We're trying to convince people that the night sky is still up there, that there's plenty to see, and if we miss it, we should do something about it. It is a problem that touches every electrified community in the world in the same way.
The clubs in Rotterdam close at 5 am. I really wonder if anyone who dances and drinks until sunrise does much the next day. We didn't...
Kilometers cycled: 101
Our first day out of Basel was the first day on the Rhine River. It's a straight line, it's a downhill slope, it's a sunny day, this is the bike tour we were looking for. And the next three weeks promise the same kind of cycling!
In Muttersholtz, a rural French town on the way to Strasbourg, we meet our host for the evening. She says her daughters have a telescope that they don't know how to use. That's our specialty.
After some vegetable stew, we set up our TeleVue-76 right next to an Omegon 700 mm refractor. Hey! We just used an Omegon telescope back in Munich! Shout out to our friends at Astroshop!
Astronomy is a hobby filled with high end equipment. You need to grind the optics and perfection, and then mount them so that they can be pointed at objects that are millions of light years away - crazy to think that you can do it from your backyard.
Sometimes, I like to remember that Galileo didn't have galaxy hunting equipment in his hands. His telescope magnified 20X. The field of view was so small that, when he made his moon sketches, he couldn't see the entire moon all at once! Our Omegon refractor easily outperforms his instrument.
So, you can learn something about astronomy with any telescope at all. We replace the battery in their finder and teach them how to point using the red dot. Then, we invent some clever tricks to make the Omegon easier to aim. In no time at all, our host has the hang of it, and by the time her husband comes home, she is teaching him how to use it!
Of course, we also give them a view through our TV-76, and shocked them with the views through our Nagler 6 eyepiece. Next, we do something that may shock some readers. We take the Nagler 6 eyepiece, and place it into the Omegon refractor. It was fun to compare the differences! The stray light is different, the blurriness is different. Even more fun is to take a basic eyepiece and place it into the TV-76!
Astronomy is always about pushing the limit of the technology, and stretching out further into space. But the moon is our closest neighbor and actually quite easy to see. John Dobson made his telescopes out of cardboard. Using a 25 cent eyepiece with a top-of-the-line refractor may not impress you, but it may surprise you. After all, it still works. I think it's an important reminder that anyone can make a discovery whether or not they're using the best equipment. Galileo did. And now our hosts can share views of the moon with their daughters - with a telescope they told us was broken.
It's a world class observatory with over 600 members. It's in the middle of Munich, and a four-meter focal length is no big deal. It's the Volkssternwarte.
The Volkssternwarte is built inside a former WWII bunker, and the thick concrete walls mean a very stable rooftop for the telescopes. One of the members even showed us how the concrete is reinforced with railroad tracks, due to steel shortages during the war.
Before we look at the telescopes, we are invited to take a look at Germany's smallest planetarium! It seats no more than 15 people in a small dome maybe two meters wide. The setup is totally mechanical, that means the operator needs to manually insert cartridges that project the planets and constellations to the right part of the sky, depending on the season. Emil produced an awesome 360 picture of the room. It looks like we're all on a globe!
The sky darkens, and we head upstairs. We observe Jupiter, then Saturn, M82, and the double star Alberio. Brendan gets his start in astrophotography by hooking his iPhone up to a 100 year old refractor. Then, Tobias, one of the members, unpacks his camera and shows us what a proper DSLR can see: the last image is an actual picture of Andromeda that Tobias took this evening, from the center of Munich!
Volkssternwarte is situated directly above a nightclub. As we leave for the evening, people in their best dress are partying and yelling. It reminds us of South Street. I suggest that maybe sometimes the astronomers can set up a telescope on the sidewalk...
The 380 number is maybe not even accurate, it's just how many times I pushed the button, and I know that whole groups of people came and went before I noticed. We were so busy!
On our way to Munich, some great fellows at Astroshop.eu reached out to us and asked: do you need any help with your sidewalk astronomy event? We decide to take a train out to their headquarters in Landsberg, to take a look at their showroom.
After browsing around a room full of high-end equipment, we eventually settle on an enormous 12" Dobsonian telescope to borrow for the weekend. "Dobsonians" are named after the Vedantu monk who invented sidewalk astronomy in California. Elias, from Astroshop, also joined us for the evening.
We shared a calm, quiet dinner together before taking the S-bahn to Marienplatz.
Marienplatz on a Friday night is teeming with hundreds of people. The crescent moon hangs high in the sky, even before twilight at 8 pm. As soon as the Dobsonian touches the ground, a group of people comes over and asks what we're doing. It's the same thing we do every night. "Would you like to see the moon up close?"
We set to work. Lines begin to form. Dozens of people wait to see, even though it's only three of us for two telescopes. I ask Elias how he's holding up, and actually part of his job is to demo these telescopes, so he's dealt with crowds like this before.
Brendan announces to the crowd: "The year is 1610, and Galileo just finished tuning up one of his new telescopes. It's a clear night, and he points it at the moon... you're about to see what Galileo saw 400 years ago."
Munich has a very active astronomy scene. Close to the alps, you can access some of the darkest skies in all of Europe. The city itself, though nearly the size of Philadelphia, has excellent light pollution practices in place. You can see the constellations from Marienplatz. A group of astronomers from Volkssternwarte also reached out to us, and some of them drop by to see what we're doing. A few even linger to help share the astronomy and pilot the telescopes!
Jupiter rises in time for the moon to set, and in total, seven hours pass before we finally decide to bring the telescopes home.
The Moon Men have landed in Munich! In this city, every road has a wide extra lane for bicycles. Bicycles outnumber cars everywhere you look. Our host, Emil, says this was not always the case. Five years ago, drivers hated bicycles, just like in Philly. Now the laws have changed, and the environmentally friendly traffic is given legal priority over the motorists.
Our host for the week, Emil, is a virtual reality filmmaker. In a documentary where you might bring one camera, Emil brings four, all bolted together to capture 360 degree views of an entire scene. Tonight, we're able to bring Emil to Marienplatz to get a look at Jupiter's moons.
We arrive and meet our moongazers for the evening. Tonight, many people are walking past. Are they busy? Suspicious? It can happen on a night that not many people are curious, but there's a way to get everyone interested in the telescope, so we keep fishing.
One of the bicycle cabbies, towing a two-person cart, hops out to look at Jupiter. He's amazed, and flags down his other cabbie buddies. Now we have three carts parked in front of our telescope on a Tuesday night, and we spend the evening with these guys talking about extraterrestrial life.