Moon and Jupiter

StarDate: August 5, 2009

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The full Moon has a brilliant companion tonight: the planet Jupiter. It's the "star" to the lower left of the Moon as they climb into good view in early evening.

As you look at the Moon, it's easy to make out its dark volcanic plains and its brighter highlands, plus a crater or two. But to see anything more than that, you need a telescope.

The first person to draw the Moon as seen through a telescope was Englishman Thomas Harriot, a part-time scientist and full-time friend of the British rich and famous. His first map of the Moon was based on observations he made 400 years ago tonight.

Harriot was around 50 years old. Decades earlier, he'd tutored Sir Walter Ralegh, and traveled to Virginia on an expedition that Ralegh organized. Back in England, he dabbled in optics, mathematics, and other fields. And in early 1609, he bought a telescope.

He turned it toward the Moon that summer, and drew several maps. But Harriot never published his drawings. The first person to publish a telescopic view of the Moon was Galileo Galilei, who did so the following year. Harriot's drawings weren't published until the 20th century. So Galileo gets the credit for drafting the first drawings of the Moon based on the view through a telescope.

Incidentally, Harriot's first map is dated July 26th, 1609. But at the time, England was using a different calendar system. So under today's calendar, the date was August 5th -- 400 years ago tonight.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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