Spaceflight is not the topic here at One-Minute Astronomer. But today, an exception. April 12 is the 50th anniversary of the first human flight into space by 27-year-old Colonel Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, who flew for the glory of the U.S.S.R. aboard a fragile metal sphere (above) atop a capricious Vostok rocket.
Modern astronomical observatories are located on barren far-away mountaintops with dry, thin, freezing-cold air. But modern astronomers travel in relative comfort to get to these observatories. Air travel is fast, frequent-flier lounges are plush, and food and lodging at major observatories rival those of a comfortable hotel. And once observing is done, an astronomer can fly home in a day to join colleagues for lunch at the faculty club.
But in 1760, it was different.
At One-Minute Astronomer, we always have a soft spot for the “underdog astronomer”. Someone who overcomes circumstance to make great astronomical discoveries with skill and curiosity and raw enthusiasm.
Today, a snapshot of Milton Humason, a former mule driver and janitor who rose to work with Edwin Hubble to establish the distance scale of the universe and become one of the best-known American astronomers of the 20th century.
More than 110 years ago, the wealthy American amateur astronomer Percival Lowell was certain Mars was inhabited by intelligent life. And he set out to prove it. Today, we take a look at this intriguing character who fired the public imagination for decades about the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life and left a lasting legacy for astronomy.
We have a soft spot for history’s obscure astronomers… the proverbial lonely men on a mountaintop who measure the sky, catalog the stars, and remain humble and unknown despite their achievements. Let the mainstream media write about the big shots of astronomy: Hubble, Shapley, Hale, and so on. We focus on the little guys.