Telescopic vs. Naked Eye Astronomy

Astronomy purists discuss the merits of telescopic vs naked eye astronomy. There is really no argument. Each observational method has its own advantages. As a science instructor in public school, I had a difficult time paring my astronomy unit to a manageable length in order to cover other areas of the science curriculum.    Meteorology was a close second. My personal instructional preference was naked eye astronomy. The subject matter beckoned on virtually any clear evening.

One favorite personal memory with my grandddaughter comes to mind. It occurred when she was about three years old. This link calls to mind a significant naked eye astronomy experience even for very young children. Maddie’s query “Grandpa, Are those stars”? to her grandfather in 2009 still echoes in my memory:

Other personal experiences in astronomy were reinforced by both both naked eye and low power telescopic observations. My octogenarian father witnessed the return of Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 in a low power Astroscan telescope. My grandson observed a close conjunction of Venus and a thin crescent moon in July 2015 and observed, “It looks like a semicolon.” A nearby galaxy, Andromeda, is faintly visible in the night sky if one knows exactly where to look. My uncle once observed the cloud bands of Jupiter through the low power Astroscan telescope. A non-telescope observation of Venus and Mercury rising from the horizon a mere few minutes apart was offered to my students in the total darkness before sunrise in 1997.

Instructor-guided naked eye experiences provide a preliminary introduction to the wonders of our cosmos, but advanced technology has enabled humanity to look into deep space at regions of the sky far beyond the range of naked eye vision. The Hubble Space Telescope (HST), launched in 1990, has performed beautifully to reveal many secrets of astronomy. Joining Hubble in our present day is the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). It will peer even more deeply into space than the HST. On Christmas Day 2021 at 7:20 AM EST the James Webb Space Telescope was launched from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. In the past seventeen years thousands of scientists, technicians, and engineers from 14 countries have spent 40 million hours perfecting the telescope. Both space telescopes experienced many delays in their construction. The HST orbited close enough to Earth, 340 miles, to be serviced periodically by astronauts in orbit. The JWST will be positioned one million miles from Earth, precluding the possibility of correction or modification.

Both telescopes are capable of “seeing” back in time. The limit of Hubble is about 400 million years from the beginning of time (some would call the beginning of time the “Big Bang event”). The James Webb telescope will be capable of seeing back in time  farther, even to the time when the very first galaxies were divinely created.

Hubble is sensitive mostly in the visible spectrum—the light by which humans see. In contrast, the James Webb telescope is sensitive mostly to infrared light to which human vision is not sensitive. From the HowStuffWorks website: “But while Hubble was a solid undergrad, JWST is hoping to delve a little deeper and come out with an advanced degree.”

As I write this blog entry just a few hours after the successful launch of the JWST, I marvel that the event, after many recent delays, was scheduled for Christmas Day 2021. Christians celebrate December 25 as the birthday of the Son of God who became a man and died to redeem all who believe in Him. Knowingly or not, the secular scientific world has called attention to the God of Creation. He transcends time. His creative works are ongoing. 

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