Expanding the Universe: Astronomy and the Telescope
Expanding the Universe problematizes the conventional wisdom of rapid scientific progress in astronomy after the creation of the telescope. Instead of seeing telescopes as a solution to erroneous ideas about the universe and our position in it, this exhibition illustrates the slow progression of the telescope and of astronomy. When you consider the size of our solar system, let alone the universe, it is understandable that early telescopes would have failed to radically change astronomical ideas. The first telescopes in the early 1600s were capable of only minor discoveries because they lacked magnifying power and were inaccurate in tracking moving astronomical bodies. In observatories, the telescope was overlooked for instruments like quadrants, which were better able to determine and track the position of astronomical objects. The telescope was not the cause of radical change in cosmologies, models which demonstrate organizations of the solar system, because it lacked the sensitivity to prove Earth’s motion. Furthermore, colleges did not advance the telescope until the late 19th century, when it was overdeveloped in its technology but under-employed in astronomical education. This exhibit explores the place of the telescope in these areas from the 1600s to the mid-nineteenth century.