exactly two years ago, I featured a quilt made by
that depicted the 26-inch Alvan Clark telescope. A couple months ago, she contacted me about having
learned of its appearance on RF Cafe. As it turns out she is the curator of the Collection of Historical
Scientific Instruments at Harvard University, and she holds a PhD from Harvard. She wrote a book in 1997 titled,
"Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology." It includes an extensive collection of ancient
drawings and etchings of astronomical events such as comets, meteors, super novae, and solar system conjunctions,
as well as implications of such phenomena in significant world events. Astrologers made a pretty good living in
the day by convincing rulers and potentates that they had privileged insight into the significance of such things.
Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology, by Sara Schechner Genuth
While reading it, I ran across this etching (right) depicting "Archimedes (c.250 BC) beholding both [planets and
comet] in his Jacobs Staff." The first thing that struck me in the image is that the Jacob's Staff looks an awful
lot like a log periodic dipole antenna. Compare the rendition to the folded structure shown in the image from a
Wikipedia article (below left). The physical size suggests its use is designed for maybe the 900 MHz ISM band, or
even higher bands. Could Archimedes actually be pointing a directional radio frequency antenna at the comet in an
attempt to communicate with alien beings in a starship, rather than using it to determine the celestial
coordinates of the object?
According to Wikipedia's explanation of how the Jacob's Staff was used, "The navigator places one end of the main
staff against his cheek just below his eye. He sights the horizon at the end of the
part of the transom (or through the hole in the brass fitting) (B), adjusting the cross arm on the main arm until
he or she can sight the sun at the other end of the transom (C). The altitude can then be determined by reading
the position of the transom on the scale on the main staff. This value was converted to an angular measurement by
looking up the value in a table."
OK, you might conclude given the context of the drawing that Archimedes
was doing just that. However, note that the bottom of the picture seems to be missing. Well, with a little
sleuthing in Cyberspace, I was able unearth the rest of the original picture (right). It appears to support my
theory - what do you think?
quilt, made by HAD
(Historical Astronomy Division, of the
American Astronomical Society) past chair Sara Schechner, is a copy of a well-known photograph of the 26-inch
Alvan Clark telescope as first set up at the original USNO site in
, c.1873. Simon
Newcomb is at the eyepiece. Details of the quilt (size, length of time to make, where displayed, etc.) are hard
to come by.