RASC—Eyes on the Universe for 150 Years


Viewing the Moon Across Time



Taking part in Viewing the Moon Across Time offers scope through self-designed programs of experimental and cognitive archaeology of observing to answer questions such as:

  1. are there skills practiced by observers of 1868 which have fallen out of use, which if reintroduced could benefit modern observing?
  2. when astronomers viewed the Moon in 1868, what did they see at the eyepiece which was qualitatively different from what we seen now (based on published representations)?
  3. how can we account for those differences? Can any of them be attributable to differences in selenographical conceptions and perceptions between 1868 and 2018? Are any of them arguably due to differences in observing technique?
  4. what can we learn from the familiar and unfamiliar in our predecessors’ approach to the night sky?
  5. how would you adapt the lessons from trying to observe with the tools and eyes of 1868 to enrich modern education and public outreach efforts?

There are even greater possibilities. Dr. Hasok Chang, the Hans Rausing Professor at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, has demonstrated that restaging historical experiments with care can lead to the recovery of significant—and fascinating—results in the physical sciences (see his 2015 Royal Society Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Prize lecture "Who Cares About the History of Science?", and his 2012 inaugural lecture at Cambridge, "Scientific Pluralism and the Misison of History and Philosophy of Science"). This possibility is present for anyone who participates in Viewing the Moon Across Time.

Participation offers a path to observational growth. And the best possibility of observing “alongside” the Society’s founders. Why not take up the challenge in our sesquicentennial year?

If any readers would like further advice in designing a program, or wishes to share their experiences and results, please don’t hesitate to contact the author at: rosenfel<at>chass<dot>utoronto<dot>ca.



We wish to thank the SPECVULA ASTRONOMICA MINIMA for the loan of images from its rare book collection. This research has made use of NASA's Astrophysics Data System.

This project's invitation to try to understand what happened at the eyepiece in the past, and use that experiential knowledge when interpreting historical puzzles of observational astronomy, as well as past data which still has a role to play in current astronomy, owes much to the dedicated approach of Richard Baum, FRAS (1930-2017). Richard used his decades of experience as a prodigiously skilled observer with quality Victorian astronomical equipment to inform his research into the "golden period" of 19th- and early 20th-century planetary astronomy (2007; ADS).

Last modified: 
Tuesday, September 11, 2018 - 4:16pm