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Celebrating Thomas Harriot

Posted: July 20, 2009

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Four hundred years ago, English polymath Thomas Harriot became the first person to look at the Moon through a telescope.

On 26 July 1609, Harriot pointed his simple 'Dutch trunke' telescope at the Moon from his home in Syon Park in what is now West London. He made the first simple sketches of the Moon several months before Galileo, although Galileo would go on to publish his work whereas Harriot did not.

Thomas Harriot's map of the whole Moon. This image accurately depicts many lunar features. Labelled features include Mare Crisium ('18') on the right hand side and the craters Copernicus ('b') and Kepler ('c') in the upper left of the disc. Image: copyright Lord Egremont.

Exactly 400 years later, on 26 July 2009, his pioneering work will be celebrated in Telescope 400, a public event taking place in Syon Park as part of the International Year of Astronomy.

The day's celebrations will include an exhibition of Harriot's maps and drawings as well as contemporary astronomical images, and an 'art and astronomy' workshop where you can learn how to sketch what you see through a telescope. There will also be activities for all the family, including a mobile planetarium, make your own water-powered rocket, star finder and sundial, and watch 'create a comet' demonstrations. Short talks marking the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landings will punctuate the day.

The celebrations come to fruition later in the day, with a performance of 17th century music by choral group Cantamus, the unveiling of a memorial plaque by Lord Egremont of Petworth, and an evening buffet reception following a lecture on Harriot’s life and work by renowned University of Oxford historian of astronomy, Dr Allan Chapman.

The first drawing of the Moon through a telescope, dated 26 July 1609, by Thomas Harriot. This crude but historic sketch roughly delineates the terminator, the line that marks the boundary between day and night on the lunar surface. The original image is a little more than 15 cm across.  The dark patches correspond to Mare Crisium (at the top), Mare Tranquilitatis and Mare Foecunditatis. Image: copyright Lord Egremont

Tickets for the daytime celebrations can be purchased on the day at the normal visitor entrance to Syon Park and include entrance to the house and grounds (adults £9, children £4, family £20, concessions £8). Tickets for the evening lecture, buffet and reception are £20 and are available in advance from Syon House on +44 (0)20 8560 0882.

Full details of the Telescope 400 can found at . The event is funded by the Royal Astronomical Society.

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