Dave Eagle – “Charles Piazzi Smyth”

Wednesday 4th November 2009

This month’s meeting was an interesting history of the nineteenth century observer Charles Piazzi Smyth. This talk was given by Dave Eagle, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and an old friend of the Papworth Club.

Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819-1900), was the son of the renowned English amateur astronomer, Admiral William Henry Smyth. Charles got his middle name from a family friend Giuseppe Piazzi, the famous Italian astronomer who discovered the first asteroid Ceres in 1801.

Smyth was Astronomer Royal of Scotland and in 1856, he undertook his famous scientific voyage to the mountain peaks of Tenerife – on his honeymoon! Here he pioneered the modern practice of siting telescopes at high altitudes for better observing conditions. He also made an estimate of the amount of heat radiation received from the Moon, and thus pioneered infra-red astronomy. Dave illustrated his talk with pictures from his own visit to Tenerife where he visited the ruins of Smyth’s observatories on the mountains (pictured above).

Unfortunately Smyth had a major obsession with the pseudo-science of pyramidology, which is founded in the belief that the measurements of the Great Pyramid contain a mystical significance. Indeed he was the only person ever to have resigned his fellowship of the Royal Society, following their refusal to publish his pyramid papers. He apparently offered his resignation in the hope that it would be refused, but the members called his bluff and he lost his fellowship!

Dave concluded the talk by showing some of his own astronomical images that he had taken on the mountains after dark. The show was accompanied by some Pink Floyd, which is appropriate for a Cambridgeshire venue. He promised to give us more on his imaging at a later date, so keep an eye out for future programmes.

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