Tag Archives: comet

The Astronomical Drawings of Monsieur Trouvelot

8 May

Back in the late 19th century, when astrophotography was still in its infancy, stargazers had to get creative if they wanted to take snapshots of the heavens. Luckily, there were people around like Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, a talented French artist with a penchant for astronomy. Trouvelot moved to the States with his family when he was in his 20s, and is probably best known for an unfortunate incident in which he introduced the gypsy moth into North America – now a notorious pest of hardwood trees.

The upside of this mishap, though, was that Trouvelot turned to astronomy and began to draw what he saw in the night sky. For some of his illustrations – the close-ups of the planets and the Moon, for example – Trouvelot used some of the most powerful telescopes available at the time, such as the 26″ refractor at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.. For others, like his depictions of the comet and the meteor shower, Trouvelot just drew what he observed with his naked eye.

In 1882, the artist published fifteen of his drawings in a book – the Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings Manual. Here are some of my favourites, starting off with a stunning aurora and a Cyclops-esque Jupiter:

The aurora borealis (Northern Lights), observed 1st March 1872

The planet Jupiter, observed 1st November 1880

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In Praise of the Comet

21 Oct

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgComets get a lot of bad press. Before science came along, they were usually seen as bad omens from the gods – “tokens of impending doom” in the words of one Roman astrologer.

Even now that we know comets to be lumps of ice and rock (‘dirty snowballs’) flying through space, countless movies portray them as harbingers of doom and destroyers of mankind. One such film, Night of the Comet, deserves a special mention, if only for being brave enough to mix apocalyptic horror, big 1980s hair, and a soundtrack featuring Cyndi Lauper.

Night of the Comet...space, zombies and big hair

Our fear of comets (and of asteroids, their less icy cousins) is perhaps not completely irrational. After all, an impact is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and the Earth will probably encounter another deadly near-Earth object sometime in its future (at which point humans may or may not still be around).

But comets also deserve some praise, because we probably wouldn’t be here without them. To find out why, we need to travel back in time to the beginning of the Solar System…  Continue reading

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