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The Northern Astronomical Review, Winter / 04-05

NGC 2237, the Rosette Nebula (Tomahide Nakaegawa)

Season: Currently winter in the Northern Hemisphere (winter began for most people over 55○ N on Sep 21 and will continue two months past March 21st for many up here.)

(Biography: Steve Yaskell is a science author in astronomy and natural history. His articles and insights have appeared in many publications around the world, such as Great Britains' Astronomy Now, as well as Sky & Telescope and The Sciences in the USA, among others. He recently co-authored a book on solar astrophysics and severe global climate change at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. [The Maunder Minimum and the Variable Sun-Earth Connection, WSP:2004])

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Regular quarterly features

*The quadrant

*Star hopping with small telescopes (a horse is horse of course, unless it's Monoceros) (Steven H. Yaskell)

*Star hopping with large telescopes (Ursa Majoris to neglected parts of Orion with Darrell Abrahams)

*Coordinates over 50○ N (Sun, Moon, Moon phases and the planets)

*NAR guest feature (galactic cosmic rays and Earth's cloud cover: what's the connection?) (the Danish Space Research Institute is in pursuit.)

*Astronomical science news (getting the low-down on dark matter : how stars are born...a newer look at the Eagle Nebula: aurora on Saturn...Coronal Mass Ejections - the Sun's effects on other planets : Machholz from Finland.)

*In astronomical history (non-mathematical science philosophy: where would Newton have been without it?)

*Equipment review (excerpts from Curt Irwin's reviews) (the Orion 120 ST is a good worker's-grade scope for the price)

*The Star Splitter (a poem by Robert Frost)

The quadrant \\\*

Winter's ways______________________________________

The real joyful essence of the extreme northern astronomer is how long they get to have dark skies. And this of course means the winter, here. A real experience if there ever was one. Somewhere deep in between early August and mid April, you can start observing at two in the afternoon and stop at nine. Around and above Fairbanks, Alaska, USA, Stockholm, Sweden, and Moscow, Russia, you get natural winter light in intensity and length such as none other. This is the way of winter here. Take a glass of vodka, ice cold like the Russians and the Finns like, and muse upon it.

Summer’s a drag, though. And this is why the next edition of NAR will be a kind of “spring-summer-“hope-fall-comes-soon” affair. I’ll even have the background color of the edition the kind of eggshell blue you get here at midsummer. Midsummer is an ancient festival in Sweden, for those who aren’t initiated. The pagan Scandinavians felt that if they kept praying in their deep winter darkness, the light would return. This since they spent so many nights in the dark, from August until April.

It is so paradoxical that such a people, confined to darkness most of the year, lit an intellectual lamp’s revolution that glows to this day. In this issue, we’ll see how Western Europeans sublimated this darkness for the overall betterment of humanity in an article on some of the founders of science metaphysics in the West. We routinely damn metaphysics today, since the Newtonian machine supplies us with compact computers to soon-to-be-affordable space shuttle tourist rides, and everything else. But without thinkers like Henry More and Robert Boyle, the Newtonian synthesis would hardly have been possible. We see in Boyle and More and others the view that science (and with Boyle, science experimentation) and God are to be studied in parallel. Boyle's hope that God in these proceedings would eventually take a back seat to scientific research has largely come true. Still, "impractical" dreaming concerning hypothesis formation is vital. To re-write a hackneyed advertising metaphor, a scientific day without metaphysics is like a day without much grist for making practical human science “sunshine.” The Danish Space Research Institute is keeping a candlelight vigil here. DSRI is coming to grips with the question of how deep galactic cosmic rays control the formation of clouds only a mile or so high in our atmosphere, daring to investigate such improbable probabilities. But to get our feet back on the ground, take a look at one of Orion’s better working class products. And if you still have the energy, get a glass of vodka (or a good cup of Christmas tea or your favorite coffee) and warm up to one of Robert Frost’s astronomer poems at the end of this edition. Here where you can’t go out much, or for too long, it’s the way of winter, after all.

Steve Yaskell

Star hopping with small telescopes

A horse with no name, but with some surprises

Steven H. Yaskell

As this holiday season goes by, thus comes deep winter. We peer now into the deep recesses of outer space. Warm coats with wind-breaking features are on, as well as caps with hoods. Even if we have protected viewing places on balconies or our own observatories, sitting still for too long is a dangerous thing. As our instruments are by necessity cold for the viewing, so must we endure the icy chill. For when it is clear this time of year, the best naked eye “seeing” is possible. Hot thermos drinks are not too far away from our binoculars and telescopes. For those who remotely scan the sky with computer-guided telescopes, we salute your modern ways and envy your comfort. But for me, nothing beats the first hand contact of starlight.

Orion has been dead-eye in the sky now for nearly two months. By mid evening in the southeast, the three bright buttons of his belt shine, almost evenly spaced, and lower still, the even brighter double star Sirius (Alpha Canis Majoris) glitters like steel over Stockholm, Fairbanks, or Moscow. But have you ever looked further east, right off Orion’s shoulder at Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis) farther to the southeast, under Gemini’s brotherly embrace? It seems a black, empty region. But go ahead and try it (if you are warm enough). Use Betelgeuse, the first magnitude orange colored variable star (Orion’s elbow) and sweep with binoculars about 35 minutes across (but at a 45 degree angle, downward) from Betelgeuse.

NGC 2237 – the Rosette Nebula. Note the stars in the center.
The gas around it giving this open cluster its flowery name is not seen in telescopes. (Tomahide Nakaegawa)

You will pass Epsilon Monocerotis and suddenly strike a small canister of stars that looks to me like a grasshopper with spread wings. Welcome to the Rosette Nebula, NGC 2237 (at about 6 hrs 40m, at +5 degrees). You’ve entered the land of the magical “horse” Monoceros. The constellation for the Unicorn, thought to have been introduced by Hevelius but charted by ancient Persians, may be a horse with a horn. But other than the title from Latin for “single-horn” it is a “horse with no name”.as far as I am concerned.

Why? Because the Unicorn has something in common with a similar animal, the winged horse, Pegasus, seen in the autumn. It also appears in a somewhat barren expanse of sky. Thus, like the horse in the song A Horse With No Name (America, Copyright Warner Bros. 1972) it is lost in a desert (this time a starry one). But with the Rosette Nebula we have a summer bloom in a dead winter setting, even if you cannot see the gas cloud around it (except in long exposure photographs). Does it make you warm inside? (Take a sip of hot coffee!) Five degrees up from the Rosette, slightly left, you arrive at another of Monoceros’ wonders. This one is the Cone Nebula (NGC 2264). Another open cluster with a somewhat smaller field, look for traces of gas (you may even see some around the Rosette Nebula if you use a Deep Sky filter). Or if you’re cold enough, you could make like Lepus (the Rabbit) beneath Orion and hop out of the cold toward spring!

NGC 2264, the Cone Nebula below Zeta Geminorum. (Tomahide Nakaegawa)

(About the photos: Tomahide Nakaegawa is an amateur astrophotographer from Japan. View his homepage, “Piz’s Jewel Box.” He has photographed most commonly seen catalogue objects in a way many small telescope and binocular users see them. )

Star hopping with large telescopes

Deep winter sidekicks

Darrell Abrahams

Even though Bullwinkle the moose is larger than Rocky the flying squirrel, he's still the sidekick. Here are a few more showpieces that have little sidekicks in the vicinity.

NGC 1977 -75-73. The “Running Man” in Orion (inside box) adjusted to show background gas that outlines the “Man” and the man’s shape. North is up. (Used with permission, Bill Cavnaugh, the Astronomical League.)

M 42. The Great Orion Nebula has a quiet neighbor. It's not M 43, the comma-shaped extension on M 42's north edge (see Autumn edition of NAR, Star hopping with small telescopes). That doesn't count. It's NGC 1977, 75, 73.

This is a group of bright nebulae that frame the outline of the Running Man. Frame the Orion Nebula in your field and push the scope up (north) one field of view. With the view in a Newtonian, the Orion Nebula has its angel wings reaching up (south) so moving north (down in the field) one comes upon a chain of three or four stars running east to west. This chain involves a nice glow of the reflection nebula NGC 1977. There's a great photo of this region in the December 2004 page of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) Calendar. Once you've found the band of NGC 1977, look for the dark wedge of dust jutting into it from the direction of M 42. Then look for the two glowing balls (fuzzy stars) of NGC 1975 and 1973 immediately north of the band. 1975 is the smaller one. This area is always a good indicator of sky conditions, especially transparency.

I doubt if anyone can see the running man except in photos but with north up he's upside down in the darker region among these nebulae, and to me he looks more like a Sasquatch.

M 81 and M 82 in Ursa Major. These two look great in wide field eyepieces but be sure to zoom in as much as the seeing will allow to search for more detail. Then go back to the wide field and hop from M 82 to M 81 and turn right almost the same distance (a bit further) to NGC 3077. (If it's not there try turning left) This galaxy is not as impressive as the other two but it helps put the big ones into perspective. At magnitude 9.8 and size: 5.4' X 4.5' this one holds well on its own. It sits right next to an eighth magnitude star. With more magnification it's an almost round glow with a brighter center.

A lovely triplet in Ursa Major. M 82 (NGC 3034) at top, type Sb spiral galaxy M 81 (NGC 3031) in the middle, and the faint glow in the circle, NGC 3077. (Tomahide Nakaegawa)

M 46 in Puppis. Easy to find. I start with Sirius in my finder, slide 5 degrees west to Beta Canis Majoris CMa (Mirzam) and then retrace my steps through Sirius and continue east twice that distance, and bend a bit south to see M 47 in the finder. In good conditions one can see M 46 right beside it in an 8 X 50 finder. It's the fainter but better open cluster. M 47 is rather bright and in your face but M 46 has more and fainter stars, and a great sidekick. That's NGC 2438. A lovely planetary. According to my Uranometria Deep Sky Field Guide it's the same size as M 57 (76") but is just two magnitudes fainter at 10.8 This planetary is buried in the north end of the cluster. Usually bag it first with averted vision. It seems so small since it's in a rich field and with a big cluster. But just like M 57 you need to magnify (and ignore the cluster) to get the most of it.

M 46 (NGC 2437) in Puppis. NGC 2438 is a planetary nebula inside M 46 at its northern perimeter (above, in this photo). Screw on an O III filter and watch it glow in the dark. (Tomahide Nakaegawa)

I'll never forget the time we were up Vedder Mountain on a late, snowless December day. We were 1800 feet above the fog bound Fraser Valley floor. Rick had my old 4 inch f/11 reflector and Dennis, his 6 inch acromatic refractor. I had my 8 inch f/8 Newtonian. The conditions were the best I've ever seen of the winter sky. NGC 1977 was glorious and NGC 2438 was easy. I pointed out the hop to M 46 and the planetary to the guys and Dennis found both quickly. He was so proud of his refractor you could hear his grin (see, my refractor is a match for that 8 inch)! But then Rick piped up; he had it too in the 4 inch and Dennis' smile faded. We were always competing, finding something first. What a night that was. The Flame (NGC 2024) was fantastic and if I'd had a H beta filter I'd have had the Horsehead! Now Dennis is gone and Rick found a job driving a bus, but those guys were great sidekicks ... er partners.

Zeta Orionis is the large (third) “belt star”, the largest in this photo. NGC 2024 is the “flame” at 4 o’clock from ZetaThe Horsehead (IC 434) is in the red field at mid-photo, looking down at Zeta. B 33 is a dark nebula at lower center. In the circle, Sigma Orionis orients you. North is up. (Don’t trust the photos: you need either A. very dark skies with filters or B. a CCD camera, to get views of the gas clouds.) (Tomahide Nakaegawa)

This is the kind of stuff I come up with. I used to give an enthusiastic five minute talk at our monthly "dinner" club meeting. I would hand out a star hop sheet printed from Hallo Northern Sky. On the back I'd print the data from the Saguaro Astronomy Club Database. I found the response was keen from a few but the majority could take it or leave it. I tend to talk too much from time to time, and the gospel according to Darrell can get annoying quickly. I eventually let it slide. Now if I'm in a group of observers in the dark I tend to help some who haven't made a list of objects to find for the evening. "Have you ever seen this? (pointing to chart) Give this a try."

The tendency with the bigger 16.5 inch scope is to travel further to a darker site than the rest and fewer are willing to go that far.

I just wish I had more time on the big scope.

(About the author: Darrell Abrahams is a member of the Fraser Valley Astronomers Society of British Columbia, Canada, and is an avid deep sky observer.)

Coordinates over 50○ N

Sun, Moon and planets

Courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory and Stardate Online

MICA is the Multiyear Interactive Computer Almanac. With it you can obtain sidereal time to your specific location for the Sun, Moon and planets. To use MICA Version 1.5 (available as test or download) you will need to know your latitude and longitude. To find Greenwich Mean Time (which is also Universal Time[UT]) find your local time zone and count forward - or backward -to the time as it would be at Greenwich (in the UK). MICA uses Universal Time (UT) for all its calculations. All you need do it add UT and your latitude and longitude and press a button to get rising and setting times of various Solar System objects. (See link below)

To calculate for planetary and solar postions, see link below (U.S. Naval Observatory MICA program)
Broken link

To find Moon phases for the month

NAR guest feature

Galactic cosmic rays, cloud creation and Earth temperature

From a Carlsberg Annual Report, the Danish Space Research Institute

Over the last 100 years the Sun has increased its activity in a way that hasn’t been witnessed by anyone now living (whether they were aware of it or not, people in the Middle Ages lived through increased solar activity). And even if other natural phenomena as well as humans contribute to the global warming now being observed, there is little doubt that the Sun plays a main role.

The Sun greatly steers Earth’s climate. The Sun’s variable behavior in long and short periods is well documented. Earth is constantly bombarded by the Sun’s radiant energy. Yet the total electromagnetic radiation bombardment of Earth does not end with what we receive from the Sun. The Sun may discharge the largest portion of radiation and so be the strongest element in moving global climate (and therefore, temperature). But even cosmic radiation from deep space makes an imprint on Earth climate.

The Sun emits a constant solar wind of varying intensity that consists of charged particles. It’s this “wind” that pushes out the Sun’s magnetic field all the way into a zone called the heliosphere. (See Figure 1).

Deep space cosmic rays go by us and strike us all the time. Deep space cosmic radiation (say, that coming from exploding stars, or, supernovae) which is “energy-rich” enough can penetrate deeply into the heliosphere - in spite of Earth’s own strong magnetic field. The stronger the energy-rich radiation, the less the heliospheric magnetic field influences it. And this deep space radiation in all likelihood has a great influence on Earth’s cloud cover.

Figure 1. The heliosphere and the Solar System. Strong, deep-space cosmic rays penetrate all the way into Earth’s atmosphere affecting cloud cover. (Adapted from Svensmark and Marsh.)

The Sun’s radiative variation these last 100 years or so shows a medium value of 0.3 Watts per square meter, a cause of the observed temperature variation over this time period. A reasonable explanation for this local variation is the cloud cover on Earth. Here, deep space cosmic rays play a role.

Cosmic radiation is a reason for almost all ionization of the lower part of Earth’s atmosphere. Ions in the atmosphere can be a key in what is called atmospheric condensation particle formation. These have a connection to small water droplets in clouds. Research results increasingly point out that cosmic radiation plays a leading role in this process.

When the amount of atmospheric condensation particles vary, so varies the amount and size of the tiny water droplets in the clouds. Such a variation influences the total energy balance in Earth’s atmosphere. This in turn affects Earth’s total energy balance and so, Earth’s temperature.

It is remarkable to note that cosmic radiation affects the lowest cloud cover in our atmosphere. Changes in the lowest cloud deck (3 kilometers up off the Earth’s surface) closely follow variations in cosmic ray intensity. Changes in clouds’ “microphysics” can also play a role in cloud size. If one compares data between variations in cosmic radiation and changes in the characteristics of Earth’s cloud cover, one sees a correlation. However, there is insufficient knowledge of the cloud’s microphysics in this connection. Research continues.

That Earth’s lowest cloud cover is influenced by galactic cosmic radiation means that processes in deep space influence us more directly than we have ever previously thought possible.

(About the author: used by permission of Henrik Svensmark at the Danish Space Research Institute [DSRI]. Henrik Svensmark and Nigel D. Marsh are researchers at DSRI. The information here is taken from a previous Carlsberg Annual Report, ”Solens inflydelse på jordens klima” Translated from Danish and edited from the original Danish text.)

Ongoing laboratory experiments at DSRI on how cosmic radiation influences the formation of cloud water droplets in the lower part of Earth’s atmosphere

Earth climate in all time periods has varied. Volcanic ash in the stratosphere is a reason for global cooling on the order of 0.5 degrees for a year or more. The same holds for the atmospheric/oceanic shifts in the Pacific Ocean, known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Annual temperature variations are a combination of various causes, where the Sun’s influence is a factor, among others (such as albedo, or human-produced air pollution).

In time scales larger than ten years, the Sun is thought to have the greatest influence on Earth’s varying climate. This posit is based upon the qualitative agreement between isotopes and numerous indirect data sources concerning Earth’s temperature over the last 1,000 years.

A remarkable agreement between the intensity of cosmic rays and the variations shown in Earth’s cloud cover has been revealed. Clouds are important for Earth’s energy balance, and the Sun’s influence on clouds is a reason for the observed agreement between solar activity and Earth’s climate. But this doesn’t guarantee a good correlation between the physical reasons and the effect. It is extremely important that we obtain an understanding of the microphysical mechanisms that unites solar activity with Earth’s cloud cover.

If cosmic rays influencing Earth’s cloud cover is a reality, then it is reasonable to think that ionization caused by galactic cosmic radiation influences the microphysics of cloud formation.

Clouds are the daily-observed - yet complex - motor that drives Earth weather and so, in part, Earth’s total climate. Basic questions still surround the physiochemical construction of aerosols upon which water droplets and ice crystals are later made. Under some circumstances the ionization of air due to cosmic radiation can play an important role. It is altogether acceptable that we can conduct laboratory experiments that replicate natural conditions in this regard.

Experiments are ongoing at DSRI. Earlier, it was hoped that a cloud formation chamber (Project Cloud) at CERN could launch this research. But the project hit a financial snag.

”Up in smoke (clouds)?” The canceled apparatus designed for the study of cloud formation in the laboratory for the purpose of learning more about clouds’ physiochemical and other properties. Research continues at DSRI anyway.

The experiments started with the study of microphysical processes by which cosmic radiation effects the formation of clouds in the atmosphere. The first program contained five groups of experiments: the seeding and growth of aerosols, how cloud water droplets are manufactured, the condensation of water vapor, formation of ice granules, and the dynamics of stratospheric clouds.


Astronomical science news from Science and Nature

Defining what dark matter is

We all know those patchy clouds of white dust far into the depths of space. A thousand of us watch them at any given time, on any clear night, admiring their beauty.

Something holds them together with gravity. This defines them sharply in contrast to all that dark space; something that is posited as non-luminous matter. We know it is out there. But what is it? Weak Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPS) and theorized particles called “Axions” are currently prime candidates for this non-luminous matter.

Both WIMPS and Axion particles have been detected by particle accelerators. “Dark Matter” (DM) can consist of either of these particles, it is thought. Twenty five percent of our universe’s energy budget is made up of it. But what makes up dark matter?

The particles’ behavior defies elementary particle physics.

A possible part of DM - WIMPS - consist of other particles. One is the Neutrolino, something of a cousin to the Neutrino. Its postulated weight is about 1,000 Hydrogen atoms. No particle accelerator has produced one yet, but it is hoped the large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland can. A more natural way to try and find one is by attempting to measure the nuclear recoil between Neutrolinos. In vast Nature (which provides more powerful - though less controllable - natural supercolliders like the Crab Nebula M 1) they could be found in the collisions. The particles could get trapped gravitationally by large mass objects (say, stars and planets) or even by the black hole in our own galactic center after the particles’ velocities slow. Another way is to check their energy output. The Neutrolino would put out billions more eVs (electronvolts) than Neutrinos could. X-ray detectors have witnessed such.

Then there is the “indirect evidence” of the Axion particle. The other DM candidate. A theory has it that Axions are made inside the Sun’s hot core by Photons and “virtual” Photons near atomic nuclei. The Sun’s magnetic field then reconverts the Axion back into a Photon. As with Neutrolinos, X-ray detectors might find such handoffs, and so, give “direct” evidence that Axions are real particles.

Both these particles (if indeed the Axion truly exists) are thought to have been widely created in the early universe. The hunt for what constitutes dark matter and what it is, is a major item of the NASA research agenda. One of the possible practical results of such research could lead to finding substitute energy to satistfy world needs. (“What is Dark Matter Made Of?”, Zioutas, K., et al Science, Vol 306, 26 November 2004 pp 1485-88)

Low mass stars give clues to the Sun’s origin: a scientific view of how “a star is born?”

Like other low mass stars, our Sun formed in a high mass star-forming region. Studying such star forming regions can give insights into how low mass stars like the Sun are made.

One or some of the stars in high mass regions went ”supernova.” Our star, then, developed in the vicinity of a massive star. Such stars emit intense ultraviolet radiation, carve out ionized cavities, and then literally cook in the dense molecule clouds where stars are made. These areas are known as Hydrogen II (HII) regions (like the Eagle Nebula, M 16 in Serpens).

A famous photo, better explained? Proplyds (inside circle) form on the way to becoming low mass stars in the Eagle Nebula – an HII region. Is this a key to our Sun's origin? (HST-NASA).

Low mass stars should go through a sequence ultimately resulting in high mass loss, or a so-called Wolf-Rayet phase. But along the way it must also undergo a stage called Evaporating Gaseous Globules (EGGS) wherein cores formed at the sequence’s beginning evaporate. Where the molecular clouds become pinpricks or nobules are the places EGGS form, one step before Wolf Rayet called ”proplyds” (see picture). The sequence basically outlined above for low mass star formation makes Jeff Hester at Arizona State University feel that many testable predications can be made that are already supported by observation. (J. Hester et al, Science May 2004 )

Evidence traces planetary auroras to the Sun’s CME events

Beyond knowing that solar-Earth magnetic activity leads to aurora, it is also known that other Solar System planets have auroras. Authors of a recent Letter to the journal Nature discovered a strong solar-triggered aurora coupled to a large Coronal Mass Ejection (or CME) event. That is, solar flaring that pushes forth hot clouds of plasma that can disrupt and destroy world power grids. The authors of the Letter observed the particular aurora on Saturn.

In fact, the observers traced it from Earth, to Jupiter, and then to Saturn. What the observers established was that shocks from such solar explosions retain their characteristics and power to trigger auroras throughout the Solar System. It also goes to show the power of those X-class solar flares that have been popping up on the Sun lately. The power of some of these CMEs is unprecedented, never having been witnessed before. (Prange, R. et al, “An Interplanetary Shock Traced By Planetary Auroral Storms from the Sun to Saturn,” Nature (Letters) 4 November 2004 Vol. 432 pp 78-81.)

C/2004 Q2 Machholz over the northern hemisphere all winter, early spring

Great sight in the 2004-2005 winter sky: Comet Machholz (C/2004 Q2) as seen from Finland by Jorma Koski near the Pleiades (note the tail beneath it that was not visible with binoculars) (URSA, Finland).


In astronomical history...

Building a platform where giants other could stand

Steven H. Yaskell

“What the thing is”

That Isaac Newton prowled the edges of experimental science with a bulldog’s glare and concern is well known in the annals of science. He is alternately hated and loved for it. He railed, some think unjustifiably strenuously, against the common science tool called hypothesis.

When defending his examinations of the essential makeup of white light fellow Royal Society member Robert Hooke wanted to know what hypothesis Newton cared to bring forward. The request was a bomb full of nails. So Newton said,

It is true, that from my theory I argue the corporeity of light, but I do it without any absolute positiveness, as the word perhaps intimates, and make at most a very plausible consequence of the doctrine, and not a fundamental proposition…had I intended any such hypothesis, I should somewhere have explained it. But I knew that the properties, which I declared of light, were in some measure capable of being explicated not only by that, but by many other mechanical hypotheses; and therefore I chose to decline them all, and speak of light in general terms, considering abstractedly as something or other propagated every way in straight lines from luminous bodies, without determining what the thing is. (Horsely, Newton : 1779-85)

Newton does the same to much else of the phenomena he so well tucked into the mathematical science-understanding of the universe of forces and motions. For he pretty much applies the same mental effort (for it can barely be called verbal construction) towards his understanding of gravity. He dared not define it. It just “was there.”

Isaac Newton

It is clear Newton wished to set a strong precedent in the proceedings of experimental natural philosophy from his time, hopefully onward. Words and lengthy definitions, craving an impossible exactness not necessarily useful even if exact - and the inevitable “disputes” they brought about - could open up questions that lead one away from an up-front, useable fact or set of consequences drawn from observed Nature. It can lead the “natural” philosopher astray from the sanctity of the observation itself if it is not workable in some experiment. And many observations, noted Newton, could not be worked into tidy experiments. Perhaps most importantly, if incorrect verbalisms lie about, pristine in logic but barren for the most part of hard proof, how much would such encumbrances someday stymie future natural philosophers? How much (asks Newton without asking!) had they already had? It could also lead, as I hazard Newton felt, away from a worship of God (I’ll get back to this later).

Nicholas Copernicus

Newton’s “highhandedness” with the “disputers” did not demonstrate an arrogant vanity, per se. His short-shrift of words and clever half-true concepts, and the ultimate care in use of them, or their abnegation altogether, demonstrates a desire to keep an observation pure, or at least in the realm of undefined possibility long enough until the right observer came along - and to keep it out of the “method of science” until it was more concrete. In other words, not jumping to conclusions that invite wordy invective; something hypotheses of his day welcomed far too many of. If anything Newton commanded humility and modesty in such proceedings, wishing mainly to posit demonstrable facts from observations and leaving all basic causes (“fundamental propositions”) which could not be made into laws or near-laws immediately, alone. Newton also shows a deep faith - if they follow his example, here - in the ability of the observer of the future, and their potential contributions. For Newton, the observation led to the mathematically-aided test; a re-examination of the findings, and then a re-test of the findings, using, of course, mathematics as much as possible.

Tycho Brahe

Johannes Kepler

Thus came the end of the natural philosopher’s link to the “messy”, wordy, verbally-construct-based philosopher and the maturation of the natural philosopher into a neater, leaner being we are more familiar with: the scientist. Science thus seemed to abandon philosophy in its classical sense, altogether. It has not of course. Nor is hypothesis such a villain,perhaps, as it once had been (Antsey : 2004). Hypothesis now lives usefully if uncomfortably side by side with the masticating jaw of the experimental process, sometimes called the “Newtonian synthesis” that often calls upon the hypothesis to be rigorously tested for falsity. Unlike in Newton’s time, common sense in scientific experimental research is not called upon to defend itself against hypotheses as it once commonly was. (But with the rise of clericalism in the world, I wonder.)

Thus due to the Newtonian synthesis the laws of nature suddenly were the same for phenomena existing whether at uncountable distances or under one’s apple tree. This virtually miraculous, measurable understanding and physical unification of the universe did not jump into the Seventeenth Century European mind - or only into Newton’s - unsupported. It had a fat, wide philosophical base. A metaphysical base rose to support Newton, a base provided by thinkers whom he often corresponded and not infrequently dined with, and most of whom he deeply respected.

One writer cites “the five” who contributed to Newton’s early understanding as if it were a breakthrough in international cooperation between scientists (perhaps it was): Nicolas Copernicus (Poland) Tycho Brahe (Scandinavia) Galileo (Italy) Johannes Kepler (Germany) and of course, Newton (England), (Wolf : 1935, 1962). As one great American philosophy professor put it long ago, Isaac Newton was “the follower of the tradition of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Descartes.” Yet he was equally as much the intellectual product of several others, such as the rarely mentioned William Gilbert, the “father of magnetism” John Harvey, a medical science pioneer - and significantly, Robert Boyle - and, as I hazard (thanks to this same author) the divine, Henry More (Burtt: 1924, 1954). For Newton stands at the crossroads of the amalgam of all these thinkers’ toils and troubles, and the theological, philosophical, and scientific pursuits thus conjoined.

William Gilbert

Therefore, Newton “saw farther than others” since, in his own few words, he “stood on the shoulders of giants.” Wisely, or perhaps simply keeping faithful to his above-established precedent for facta non verba in experimental, demonstration-worthy science, he left how we should interpret this encomium to others. For it is hardly clear where it begins or ends.

Kudos for theism

In conventional wisdom the Newtonian synthesis came about by some kind of natural, evolutionary process. True: for centuries from the Middle Ages on a need for simplicity in thought drove its way like a spike through European universities. What caused this is anyone’s guess. Anything from the Great Plague leaving a broad human population gap to a human population explosion within limited resource bases that drove more pragmatic needs in a complicating society (take sanitation and health for instance, or the need for simplifying food distribution over wider areas). In any case, the scholastics’ classical explanations for things would hardly do any longer in the face of such pressure, if pressure in these instances was the case in forcing out contemplative divinity in universities (the “why” of it all) and inviting more “how to” themes.

But in order to see where Newton (and therefore all of us) “got to,” it is wise to see where Newton “came from.” And at the same time, it is vital for us to see what was necessary to be lost in order for European civilization (only, at that time) to progress into a more materially-comfortable plane that included an increased life expectancy. For, cognizant of these needs as people may or may not have been, this was the haphazard wish of a lump populace foisted upon those who were their elites. This would be their thinkers in other words. And before Newton, these thinkers were Church prelates and their university-bound near numbers, the scholastic professors.

Robert Boyle

What would come as a shock to readers today is the theistic connection between research science and the belief in God (not necessarily Christian, or the belief in Jesus) that preceded the Industrial Revolution, and which motivated Newton and especially, the “Father of Chemistry” and Boyle Law author, Robert Boyle. The more-than-heavy reliance on the one upon the other is something that is almost forgotten in classical philosophy, let alone in the realms of research science, from which the mention of “God” (let alone a worship of God and His Scriptures) has long since vanished. For as we trace the history of what we had to “lose” in order to “gain,” the connection to theism - the knowing belief in an all purposeful God who may not be rational in the human sense of the word - is very clear.

A curious parting for a new awakening

Approaching Copernicus in the 1500s we see a European Christian world immersed in a supine, dependent belief in an all purposeful God without possessing even the pretension of yearning for scientific method. This is understandable enough given the period where, for the preceding 350 or so of the 500 years before Copernicus’ time, the Patristic fathers, adumbrating the Greek thinkers, but pushing hard the pure Christian thinker/worshippers - the St. Augustines - oversaw the mental slumber over acknowledging much of a physical universe. The widespread and vigorous Arabic speaking Muslims arguably were more science-oriented at this time than virtually all of Christendom, the latter a Land of Cokayne.

Henry More

As if in a glass case with the words “Break In Emergency” on it, physical nature and its spiritual essence could not be separated for a “necessary” shattering. (They were virtually synonymous.) Even if the less common prelates such as Copernicus were privy to the dire need for a spatial redefinition of the complicated spheres of Ptolemy. A new cosmic scheme other than the Greek African’s was needed. The placing of the Sun at the center of the Solar System, with planets concentrically arrayed, was possible only because it was not impossible. Ptolemy’s geometrical intricacies were too complicated for Nature, men felt. Observation was almost unnecessary to confirm this. Copernicus hardly worked in a vacuum, here. There were any number of classical Greek and Arabic thinkers from Aristarchus to Al Tusi providing the well-worn road upon which to take the desired journey and Copernicus had access to all their texts and to any number of their explicators. All it took was the solemn act to simplify - that key word - the basic cosmic structure, an act at once simple and at the same time, profound unto ultimate profundity. It pushed the distances in space up to this time out to a boundary barely imaginable: certainly farther away than Ptolemy could ever imagine and farther away than even Copernicus could calculate or contemplate. The step was to outstrip those taken by any other culture or religion, previous or present, with no turning back. Like his descendants (only English) Copernicus was a theist and given the time in which he lived it is no surprise.

With Copernicus, we see in current cosmic systems the first step, simplicity.

But arguing against, or being out of synch with, a strict theistic appreciation of Nature must come to pass. Simplicity “in the universe” now in place, it was time to question the Master Planner’s methods altogether, if Man might dare. Questioning leads to answers, if not totally away from a dependent and Holy belief in an ultimate Creator.

Thomas Hobbes

After Copernicus, Galileo worked strenuously for cause and effect in “local” - not universal - motions. The universality of motions conflicted so much with “common sense” observation of the “how” of something that Galileo - perhaps with typical Latin passion - refused to admit them into discussion more often than not, and heatedly so. For they were too abstract and though full of potential truth, they did not solve problems (let the “why” care for itself.) His insistence upon mathematics, geometrical as it mostly was in providing proofs to observations, became preeminent in his conception of the path to rational enquiry. He belatedly accepted the Copernican cosmic design and received castigation in return, only to renounce Copernicanism officially.

Rene Descartes

Curiously, Galileo rises in the intellectual circles of Catholicism’s Italian capitol while his contemporary, Johannes Kepler, perambulates close to the kingdom of Protestantism’s northern citadel of Scandinavia, with its sympathizers in Germany and in the Baltic region. We go from the loose robe and sultry Roman air to the fur collars and frigid nights of the courts of Tycho Brahe the star measurer. A counter-reformation is afoot, Christianity involved in a schismatic war across Europe, north and south, and one with the Muslim to the east. For all this, Catholic Galileo and Protestant Kepler, lords of a new and rising aristocracy as yet unnamed, write to each other about clerical, royal and related obstinacy between critiquing their precious ideas. Kepler is half mystic (as many of these early worthies were); a cabalistic enquirer who worships the Sun as if it were a prized doll in a doll collection of exceptional value. Half mathematician, half dreamer, he is as much a theist as is his Catholic correspondent (both are religious Christians). For this Kepler is rewarded an insight into the mechanics of universal motion such as no other: the three laws of planetary motion (note the word “law” for discussion, later.) Galileo, other than becoming the inventor and patent holder of several practical devices, and a loud champion of the nascent scientific method of observation and pertinent measurement, introduces the “Break In Emergency” wished for upon the protective glass of scholastic science. He succeeds fully in being able to allow a repeatable, clear and distinct difference between physical nature’s construction versus its spiritual-religious construction. Brahe provided the measurements needed for Kepler’s mathematical proof of laws of planetary motion. The Catholic Church provided the impetus needed to drive Galileo over the edge of worship of non-motion and change for a nascent acceptance and understanding of the same -yet in the context of a separation between a “thing’s” physical nature (within Nature) - say, the Sun and its blemishing spots versus its pure spiritual significance (still the “father of the heavens” and “perfect” in the spiritual sense).

Religious war catches Kepler on his way to publishing the Rudolphine Tables, his and the late Brahe’s (and our) treasure. This vulgarly put is the first practical star chart. He dies or is killed on a Counter-reformation battlefield and is buried without a trace. The venom of the scholastics in and just outside of the Catholic Church stifles Galileo into an unwanted silence.

The die is cast. In France while Galileo ages in enforced silence, the Frenchman Rene Descartes forces the break between a purely theistic appreciation of Nature versus a heavily agnostic one even further. With Descartes comes perhaps the most crucial perambulation towards the idea of a separation between God and Man for the act of facing Nature.

Galileo and Descartes are the driving intellectual forces for removing Man as “middle man” between God and Nature.

Francis Bacon

What Descartes and Galileo do is essentially decouple the link between Man as a “primary” force in the presumed eyes of God and, worse (or better, depending on how you view it) eventually in man’s own eyes. This is one of the greatest things Man has ever had to lose in order to gain a larger understanding of his universe and better physical comfort within it. They do this by viewing the primacy of forces readable only by the thin codex of mathematics. Man cannot “see” the “true” workings of Nature (force, motion, impenetrable space, the deep inner workings of the human mind, etc.) since he is stymied by his primitive self or his very humanness (his emotions, lusts; his physical and intellectual weakness, and other limitations that prevent him from reading the “primary forces” of Nature with the unsheathed, pure hand of mathematics; geometry and algebra). Both men share the idea of force, momentum, a “mathematical universe,” and the metaphysical imagining of an extended space, only with Descartes, more so. He is ready to tell us why. Descartes’ strict rationalism, ready acceptance of natural law, hypothesis, and imaginative free-thinking formulations beg questions of raw nature, and how raw nature functions, whether God chooses to inform Man or not. Accepting in part the “why” of it all as the act of God, he is not in a hurry to have Man talk to God or vice versa. For Descartes it is all in the “how” of things, though he is not much of an experimental mathematical scientist in the way of Galileo, nor of Harvey, nor Gilbert. He is in a hurry to rationalize the existing plane between Man and Nature, and to riddle out the secrets, hand on, with concepts. Oppressed by Churchmen, and in mortal fear of some, and perhaps depressed if not driven partially insane due to Counter-reformation court terror Descartes cites common sense and a heroic urge for Man to rise above his situation (he echoes science philosopher and materialist Francis Bacon in England). Any spiritual sensibility could be some kind of thinking aura that exists just beyond men’s individual bodies perhaps, yet separate from Man (the essence of his idea of “duality,” as if thought exists independently of Nature). Whether it has anything at all to do with God’s love for Man or as a representation of Man’s Holy Spirit is not for him to say. In a time when perhaps every literate person and armed group or both claimed the Savior was their own special spokesperson, and took up arms in their belief, Descartes’ explanations appear positively refreshing and uplifting.

There are primary forces (elemental powers, deep space, forceful winds that are uncontrolled, the inner working of the psyche) and secondary forces (men’s inner fears, bodily functions and cravings, his artistic drive and so on). Man is in the second category of forces since he cannot (except for the elite among men) read Nature’s forces, many of which control him and crush him. Cartesian “duality” also lies in this dissection of Man away from the teat of his great sense of himself in the cosmic arena. Without his feeble, glowing conscience he is almost as much a part of Nature as mere mass, and not much of that. If he learns enough mathematical science to read the great book of Nature he may be able to save himself. Descartes devotes the rest of his life to this latter endeavor.

Cogito ergo sum: declaring war on Nature to help Man

(The man): “I think…I think I am. Therefore I am…I think?” (The voice): “Of course you are my bright little star! You’re miles and miles and miles of your forefathers’ fruit. And now to suit our great computer! You’re magnifunique!” The Moody Blues, “In the Beginning”(Copyright 1969 Decca Music)

We can muse upon this strenuous unintentional agnosticism shown by the likes of Kepler, Galileo, and profoundly, Descartes as some kind of human reaction towards the religious infighting of their ruling elites, and the barbaric last resorts the Holy kings turned to in maintaining their worldly power - more often than not in the name of God. An idiot could ignore the cries of the common man, roiling beneath this turmoil to the tune of sacrificed thousands. It is hardly responsible to think that intelligent, able persons such as the aforementioned would sit tamely by and take it from their lords and masters. And these certainly did not. All men are a part of their time, and these men lived with a conscious knowledge of how primitive and terrible their plight was, then. For them, conceiving Copernicus’ wider realm of space, it was as if a cowl had been removed. All three were benign rebels, with the earlier fourth, Copernicus, perhaps the most rebelliously benign of them all. We owe our daily comfort and perhaps safety from persecution indirectly to these people. They lived perilous lives, two of which ended before their times in flight from perfectly nauseating absolutist power elites, bandying about the name of God and the Lord Jesus as if the one were a personal prison warden and the other, their private Holy jailer. (If one thinks the hypocrisy of the Victorian prelates was bad, it must have been nothing compared to that of the wealthy man at this time and his personal spiritual advisors.) These were legion. The Descartes and Galileos were few. Galileo had to accept a love child, his only love, as a nun who died in poverty without being able to visit her due to Holy Papal writ. His consolation was that, against all religious authority, he was secretly buried with her. Descartes similarly lost a daughter to a viral illness that today would perhaps have been destroyed by a ridiculously mild antibiotic. His own fitful dissections of animals were directed in a frantic search for first causes arising in them from Nature, so as to discern its inner workings. Such humanitarian men could not bear to witness the writhing masses living in slime whilst a lucky few indulged in the thin worldly pleasures then available. That even these answered to unimaginably severe plagues and limitless illnesses was another reason for forcing the anti-theistic break with an all-ruling God who chose to reveal unto us when He chose. For it was clear that, if God wanted to help us, his divine commandment was Man’s dominating himself by reason and mathematics to read the great book of Nature, alternately, to read Scripture as a prelude to scientific investigation.


Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) declared Descartes. Nothing else (other than perhaps God) could realize themselves as a thinking being so far as he knew in this vale of tears. It was up to Man himself.

The theistic re-instatement : the argument

(The man): “I’m more than that. I know I am. Or at least I think I must be.” The Moody Blues, “In the Beginning” (Copyright 1969 Decca Music)

A counter-reaction to Descartes’ philosophy formed in his own adopted country of Holland. This was Benedict de Spinoza, who strenuously opposed the fierce demarcation between Man and spirit. Though he taught Cartesian metaphysics Spinoza opposed him. (A surprising nuance in Spinoza’s “anti-Cartesian” stance was the desire to take a friendlier approach to Nature without any materialistic motives.)

But the strongest reactions against Cartesian philosophy came from England, which of course expressed this negativity towards Descartes through their Protestant channels on the continent. The only agreement with Descartes’ aim of interpreting all with God as an aid, but nearly in the backseat, were materialists like Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon. Where Hobbes at last defines the “manners” of men, and exposes their less-than-godly ways, Bacon wrote the “straight line” for questioning Nature in the new spirit of the Hobbesian freedom (in fact, Hobbes is the template for the modern social and political scientist). Yet neither was so quick to separate Man so neatly from Nature and God, and to containerize the soul, as was the great Frenchman.

A most powerful reaction to Descartes’ schism was lodged by Henry More, the English theologian. Where Descartes considered the soul as being only inside Man, and in a quite specific locus, More strongly defended its essence as being somewhat outside as well as inside - a zone that Descartes had clinically labeled “the thinking substance.” More was convinced of Man’s soul existing within and beyond the body and this sacred philosophy reached the receptive minds of both Boyle and Newton.

Curiously, however, Hobbes and Bacon had paralleled thinkers and experimenters like William Gilbert, who also noted that the soul outside of Man -identifiable or not - almost in terms of its medieval sense (the “animus”). A man given to magnetic experiment, indeed, the founder of global magnetism and various applications thereof, Gilbert was a strong example of the coming species of scientist: the kind who could perform experiments with a free understanding of the difference between Man’s spirit, and Nature’s mass content, viz á viz its own spiritual essence. John Harvey similarly worked toward understanding physics, that of the human body, within the full knowledge of a purposeful and all powerful God. Imbued with Bacon’s spirit of open minded study, Harvey studied the flow of blood in the human body where Descartes had discussed this pump as a center of our being.

Descartes spurred on as well as defined 17th Century’s humanity’s bold drive for mastery over Nature and itself. He was the metaphysical definition of what Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus had all stood for. But he and many of his contemporaries were mechanists and materialists of Nature, with the wish to make it yield to Man a “special place” that was to lose ground from the 19th Century, onward.

Benedict de Spinzona

More’s challenge to Descartes found a solid home in the works and writings of Robert Boyle. Like Gilbert and Harvey before him, Boyle did not neglect the theistic link between research science and a belief in God. Boyle in fact stated that one should prize Scripture over science and research, and indeed, use the former first when considering going further into the latter. Boyle was there on the intellectual scene - now expanding into the colonial United States of America and Canada - long enough to be able to counter the thrusts of the “new” believers in God - the deists.

The deistic challenge and the work of the new philosophers : God dismissed

Robert Boyle had hoped and prayed that research science would open paths and shed intellectual light unto Man so that an open appreciation of him would no longer be necessary. This would come to pass in time. This we would receive. (We may have to begin invoking Him once again however.)

Boyle and Newton were the last of the theistic scientists of great renown. Growing up all around them however was a new breed. An entrepreneurial race that thanked the forefathers for their theistic contributions, yet claimed that, as the “laws” of Nature, laid bare by the Great Newton for the most part were with us, God could leave the stage altogether. Nature was a rational essence, insofar as God was a rational being. This, in effect is the textbook definition of deism. It was only up to humanity to find the smaller truths from those few basic laws uncovered by the mighty Newton and his somewhat gifted, though “not so great” colleagues and forebears upon whose shoulders Newton, demi-godlike, stood. It is doubtful Newton ever wanted such fame. It is certain that his forebears were in many ways greater than him.

With Newton, we see the depths of limitless space enlarged to a point where mathematics can only provide us the numbers, but no imagination of the physical reality. He is the apex of the Copernican extension of space, through Descartes, to right this moment.

Yet Newton was adopted by the later 18th Century thinkers as their poster-boy of deistic appreciation of Nature and were wrong for it. Most terribly so, as we are now finding out.

The essence of the problem is discovered in thrown-by-the-way scholarship that points out, for instance, Boyle’s refutation of the deists, him using skilled logic, that they (and so we) were apparently immune to. We must understand the influence Boyle had on Newton and vice versa to come to grips with this issue. And in the refutation of the deists, Newton is characteristically mute. (The deists would doubtless take this as a sign of Newton’s “godlike silence” without further need for explication. Need a demiurge, after all, speak? The modern feminists and post modernists take Newton’s reticence as a sign of arrogance beyond belief. But the arrogance lays not with Newton “the demiurge.”) Newton’s words are found in Boyle, a man almost as theological as More and Newton.

For Boyle pointed logically out that “laws” are the products of men’s visions and discoveries. They are not handed down by God, per se, but come about by Man’s obtaining revelation after study, contemplation and dutiful observation, mostly as God the Almighty grants, theistic proofs of which exist, for instance, in the Book of Genesis. Therefore, the possibility for Man to even glimpse such visions and garner discoveries are his own work, tiny as it is, amidst the incredibly massive edifice of a “real power” (that is, God, or Lord God) and not puny laws. For the “laws” of man is a mental construct; a system of a new conception of primary forces, not given as random and all powerful, but able to be understood. In short, they represent an understanding, that is, of Nature - and perhaps of God. But they are not the great “all.” Indeed, our very existence is in itself a path to understanding or trying to know God, according to More, Boyle, Newton, and most all theists.

For all the fundamental laws we have obtained, we have not obtained all the laws we could possibly obtain. How could we? Newton’s very stance of not perverting God’s will with too many words when there are no “fundamental principals” for the uncovering is proof positive that we have not obtained all fundamental knowledge of Nature, and not of God either. Hence Newton’s “arrogant” silence. There could be an unlimited set of ultimate “fundamental laws of Nature” that remain just beyond the rim of our current human understanding. Additionally, the laws we know may vary in time, and even change as time progresses. Hence the words of Newton in his second edition to the Principia about the Deity (listen for the thoughts of More, Spinoza, Boyle, Bacon and others),

This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God…or Universal Ruler…the Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but as a being, however perfect, without dominion cannot be said to be Lord God…It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God: a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme or imaginary God. And from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being; and from his other perfections, that he is supreme, or most perfect…We know him by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final causes; we admire him for his perfections; but we reverence and adore him on account of his dominion; for we adore him as his servants; a god without dominion, providence, and final causes, is nothing else but Fate and Nature…And this much concerning God; to discourse of whom from the appearance of things does certainly belong to natural philosophy.

As the first tangible fruit of the Newtonian synthesis started to make itself apparent, from cotton gins to better plows and steam engines, to blood transfusions, down to today’s 80 year average life-spans for women and personal computers with motion picture industry standardized audio and video, all this has been conveniently forgotten or tucked very tidily away. Perhaps it was the language he used. It was a tone that shamed away the reluctant from an embrace of God, since language ages. The reference to some (as Newton suggests) possibly imaginary being having us as his joyous servants tastes stale in the mouth of a modern human being in the luxury-indulgent West, used as it is to every possible convenience in an environment that promises endless more. Yet his own scientific-rationalist apologists, the deists, became in a way Newton’s intellectual Judas Priests and our own betrayers, as well as our benefactors.

As the 18th Century wore on philologist-philosophers such as David Hume appointed themselves the cynical spokesmen of a questionable deity that apparently held us back. He was suddenly no longer the source of all knowledge; he was no longer a partaker in it. Hume and others scraped away at the theistic underpinnings of Western thought. German pedantic philosophers such as Immanuel Kant hastened this on. God becomes an emblem in these men’s works, not a living, breathing presence tied preciously to our existence: a common sensibility in the Middle Ages. As the miracle of Newton’s mathematical sciences led scientists on to uncover more knowledge of things through a handful or laws, God was blended further and further into a philosophical appendage, with the help of “scientific philosophers.” This was done especially by the Greek-obeying continental philosophers such as Kant (ironically, the more early materialist English philosophers were more Latin in outlook). Soon God becomes less the Christian image of the sensibility and more like the classical pagan variety, for all Kant’s (for instance) opining about our need to believe in Him and an 18th Century’s Presbyterian’s outlining of moral laws. Later on, in various other writing, spurred on by the numerous and influential continental European philosophers, to include the British sooner or later, God collapses and dies. So the great medieval sense of being and oneness with God once so apparent before the 17th Century in the West, and the tingling, joyful hope of a resurrection away from a miserable physical existence, has left us, in this late age, with a quite pleasant physical existence in the West in many ways, but within a spiritually testy, if not moribund one. We seek the “heartland” of not only our souls, but of the great landmasses where people philosophize less and believe more.

The curious thing about Newton’s second edition Principia’s words on the Deity is the barely disguised warning to wayward “servants” who give no worship to the “living, intelligent, and powerful Being.” That is, if we give this being no place, all else is Fate (superstition) and Nature - the hard place Newton and his teachers assisted in first delivering us away from. The philosophy of Hegel and later, Bertrand Russell, talk much of “Fate” and "Destiny" and other pagan concepts. God is dead and, voila. We are back to the pagan past of the pre-Christian Druids, spiritually. Technologically, however, we are armed to the very teeth.

Unlike the demiurge he is painted as being, such as by plow-improving American presidents like Thomas Jefferson to neo-Augustan poets like Alexander Pope, all the way to that can-do Manhattan Project crowd that invented the bomb, Newton saw himself in a less glamorous light. He did not make gravitation apply to all bodies, and his time and space appreciations were metaphysical and God-awed in the main. It was his followers who became his Judas into seeing all these as universal entities, separating God ultimately from them and the finding of more like them. If anything, Newton sees himself as a slightly clever servant. Newton’s main achievement was to define a distraction-free place wherein one could solve physical problems, much as Galileo and Descartes and others had hoped, and as Boyle helped him to achieve.

What do we see ourselves as in this late age? How many new things, new ways of helping our human condition have passed since the time Boyle and Newton walked the earth? Have we missed any unseen laws due to our not paying any attention to an “all powerful, living, and intelligent being?” Do we even think this way any longer?

Given that few new fundamental laws have been discovered to widen our understanding since their time, could we “super rationalists” have been deeply in the wrong for listening to the progressive deists all these years? Could God, in other words, be a little less “rational” than we think? Is the essence of Kabalos, or cabalistic interpretation of Scripture, more necessary for extending our understanding of Nature and so God (in the Hobbesian understanding) due to accepting that His logic is so deep in the Scriptures that we can only gaze at times and hope for revelation in paralleling scientific pursuits?

Curious agnostics wait and see. We may not have the tingly spirit of a medieval Christian God with us any longer among the elites, once childishly hopeful, if illiterate. But we and, significantly, our elites, do certainly have the means by which to destroy the entire planet today.


Anstey, P.R., “The methodological origins of Newton’s queries,” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, Vol. 35A, 2 June 2004 pp 247-269

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Burtt, E.A., The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (Dover: 2003)

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Crowe, M.J., Modern Theories of the Universe from Herschel to Hubble (Dover:1994)

de Spinoza, B., On the Improvement of the Understanding/The Ethics/ Correspondence (Dover:1955)

Descartes, R., Discourse on the Method for Conducting One’s Reason Well and Seeking Truth in the Sciences (1637)

Drake, S., Galileo at Work: His Scientific Biography (Dover : 1995)

Gaukroger, S., Descartes: an Intellectual biography (Oxford: 1995)

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Isaaci Newtoni Opera quae exstant Omnia. Commentaris illustrabat Samuel Horsely, L.L. D etc., 5 vols, London, 1779-85, 324 (quoted in Burtt, p 217)

McCluskey, S.C., Astronomers and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge : 1998)

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Equipment review... Orion Astroview 120 ST, $429.99 refractor featuring a short f/5 optical system with a 120mm lens (equatorial mount, 6x30mm finder, and a pair of 10mm and 20mm Plossl eyepieces)

From Curt Irwin reviews

I’ve been an avid amateur astronomer for about ten years, with my main focus of study being the Moon, the planets and Deep Sky Objects (DSOs). I’ve had a variety of scopes from a wide range of binoculars and reflectors and I now have an 8 inch SCT. I’m more of a general interest observer. If I am short on time I’ll just check out the Moon if its out or the planets at that time. Perhaps a few of my favorite DSOs like M42 or M31. If I do have more time, I’ll go through the Messier list as much as I can or I’ll take more time with the Moon and planets.

Reasons for choosing the Astroview 120ST

As much as I love my Meade 8 inch LX50, I can’t use it as much anymore as I have less time now with three kids and 2 jobs, in addition to having a bad back. Those factors led me to finding a low cost, easily portable scope that I could take out at a moments notice with little or no setup time. It should be noted that I live in north central Wisconsin. The upper Midwest is known for poor seeing conditions most of the time, though we do occasionally get some excellent nights. I’ve been an avid amateur astronomer for about ten years, with my main focus of study being the Moon, the planets and deep sky objects. So my interest varies between planetary and stellar observing.

My options were limited to price, size/weight, ease of setup and versatility. Since I still have my SCT (that at some point will go into a small permanent observatory) getting a smaller SCT was not what I was after. Nor did I want to go the route of a reflector. I started looking into short tube, rich field refractors. The APOs looked great but were way too pricey. I looked at other low cost alternatives, but most of the achromats of any kind all had the chromatic aberration caveat. Together with a ton of reviews and a few good recommendations from some fellow stargazers, I purchased an Astroview 120ST from Orion Telescopes, I had some reservations about this purchase as most complained of terrible high power views. I expected this however (as well they should have) for this short focal length achromatic scope. But Orion has a great customer service department, so I was not concerned if this was not quite up to my expectations.

The Astroview 120ST is a 600mm, f/5 short tube refractor, with a 4.7 inch, multi-coated objective lens that is meant for wide field viewing, not planetary or Moon detail. Orion clearly states its use as such. But from my first times out, I have been able to really push the magnification on the moon, Jupiter and Saturn, revealing an extreme amount of detail for this type of scope. It is lightweight at only 9 lbs and only 24 ½ inch long so it its size is perfect for me. I can leave it on the mount and carry the whole thing out side and start observing immediately, which is important because I have such limited time and sometimes I can’t haul out my SCT. Also because of its size, I can now take it with me wherever I go as the whole setup fits easily into any size vehicle.

Equipment and shipping

I received my scope from Orion in 5 days with standard ground shipping. It all came in one box, with most every component packaged in separate boxes within. The scope itself was only wrapped with tissue paper, with bubble wrap around that. I would have expected some kind of fitted foam for the scope at least. But everything was in perfect shape.

The Astroview 120ST is sold as an OTA only or a package. I purchased the package for $429 (shipped) and it comes with everything you need to start viewing, which includes a 2 inch focuser (for optional 2 inch accessories), a 1.25 inch diagonal, 1.25 inch - 10mm and 25mm Plossl EP’s, 6 X 30 finderscope with bracket, , tight fitting endcaps, 2 counterweights (about 10 lbs. total), mounting rings and the Astroview (EQ3?) mount and aluminum tripod...with a nice accessory tray and a hinged leg stabilizer (which is nice for quick setup and tear down as the legs fold up quickly without having to remove anything).

When I first looked at the scope, I was happily surprised at the solid feel of its construction. The tube finish was a shiny black with the focuser and lens cell assembly made of cast aluminum that is painted with a black textured paint (rather than the black anodized finish of more expensive APOs). It felt heavier than I thought 9 lbs. would. I guess at $429 with a mount, I was expecting a more cheaply made scope, but it is very well made. I also expected a flimsy, rattling mount. I had owned a few cheaply made EQ mounts in the past and I thought at this price, the mount would be similar to those. But I was quite pleased with what is a very solid, beefy mount for this size (more about the mount later.) My first impression of the scope and mount was that it was substantially better than I imagined.


On my first few nights out with the Astroview 120ST, I could make out Cassini’s division in Saturn and at least 4 cloud bands on Jupiter as well as gorgeous details on the moon. I’ve read other’s comments about this scope’s inability to resolve much detail and that the views “mush out” at anything above 60-80X magnification (which one would expect from an achromatic refractor of this length), yet I pushed it to 120X with a 10mm EP and a Barlow and it still maintained very sharp images. The views seemed no different with my Meade 26mm & 10mm Super Plossls than with the supplied Orion 25mm & 10mm Sirius Plossls. The Barlow is Orion’s 2X APO shorty.

On star tests, there is a bit of flaring, both in and out of focus, but only at the edge of field. Stars when in focus are perfectly round points of light. The field of view is very wide indeed. With the supplied 25mm EP, this scope engulfs all three stars of Orion’s belt in the same field of view. Even the Great Orion Nebula was still quite sharp at 120X and very bright and clean, with the 4 stars of the trapezium clearly defined. Chromatic aberration is minimal. It is vaguely noticeable on very bright objects such as the moon and planets…with a hint of either purple or yellow (only at the very fringe on one side of the object, or the other, depending on how you move about the EP). There is no other discernable coloration of objects…no purple or blue tones with anything. Aside from the fringe color, I get the same colors as with my SCT.

In comparison to my Meade 8 inch LX50 SCT the Astroview has sharper optics and more contrast. My SCT has perfect collimation and beautiful view and of course a larger aperture so it should resolve more detail, but in side by side comparisons the Astroview’s optics reveal crisper and more defined views at about the same magnification. I’m sure at higher magnifications my SCT will remain sharper, whereas the Astroview’s short focal length will start degrading the view, though I have not had a chance to test it at higher than 120X. Others who own the Astroview 120ST report to me that on nights of good seeing that they have been able to push the magnification up to 240X and still maintain crisp views, but I have no way of authenticating it.

The 2 inch focuser has a 1.25 inch adapter. The focuser is solid and smooth. Achieving focus is a snap and the focuser holds the focus, even without the lock down screw tightened. Focus is very easy to obtain and sharpen and much easier than similar focusers I’ve had on reflectors.

The supplied 6 X 30 finderscope is all metal except for the small dew shield. Orion got rave reviews from Sky & Telescope for their design of the finder bracket’s alignment. It is so easy to align with only two set screws that push the finder against a spring loaded pin. At first I thought a 6 X 30 finder scope was a bit cheap as I am used to the more robust 8 X 50’s, but in reality anything over 6 X 30 is overkill. The Astroview has such a wide field of view that one could almost star hop through the finder scope itself. I think a red-dot finder would be most appropriate for this wide field scope. The only complaint I have about the finder scope bracket is the manner in which it is attached to the scope housing. The dovetail seems to be pointing in the wrong direction, because if you are viewing overhead and the set screw loosens, it will slide right out onto the ground!

The mount is called an Astroview, but it looks just like Orion’s EQ3 mount…which I think is either a CG-4 or CG-5 knock-off. It is very solid and robust. It moves smoothly, though it is a little stiff, but there is no sticking anywhere. It may just need adjusting or like the CG mounts, it needs to be taken apart and cleaned and re-greased. For tracking or astrophotography I will use my SCT and I may even add a mounting bracket to my SCT’s OTA to mount the Astroview to it as a guide scope, viewer or wide field photography platform while on my SCT. Unless the Astroview mount is adjusted or cleaned and re-greased, or both, I wouldn’t add a drive to it as it is a little stiff, though smooth in operation.

The mount’s setting circles are so loose (with a lot of play in them) that one could not really use them for exact location of objects. They seem quite sloppy, cheap and almost an afterthought. The polar alignment scope that comes supplied with it, according to the directions, is way too time consuming to bother with, given that one really wouldn’t want to use this mount as a platform for astrophotography anyway. I use it more like a more controlled Alt-Az mount since I use the scope more for quick and easy viewing. The flexible RA and Dec movement cables work quite nicely for keeping objects in the field of view. The mount gives you the option of placing them on either side of the mount for easy access. One thing to keep in mind with this mount is that the mounting rings bolt directly to the mount. There is no dovetail/saddle assembly for this mount.

The aluminum tripod legs are not very stable when fully extended (as one would expect), but very solid when fully retracted and overhead views are not really hindered as this is a short tube…not the monolithic, four foot long focal length refractor. The height of the mount (at its base) when the legs are fully extended is 47 inches and when fully retracted is 26 inches. I found a happy medium in height versus stability. If the legs are about halfway extended (which allows for fairly comfortable viewing while standing) the damping time is around three seconds…which, even at 120X is no bother…and focusing alone does not make it jitter much, if any. Only bumping into the scope or tripod makes it jiggle, so overall it is quite stable. This is the exact same mount that Sky and Telescope reviewed with the Orion StarMax 127 EQ (Makustov) in their March 2002 issue.

To conclude

Overall, I think this scope is greatly underrated. It is not an APO to be sure, but because of the way it performs, it certainly acts more like one than your typical achromatic scope, much less a short tube at that! Still, the mount leaves a lot to be desired for astrophotography. But for the price of this setup one can hardly complain.

(About the author: Curt Irwin takes in astronomy equipment reviews online at signed or - as in this case -anonymously.)

The Star Splitter

Robert Frost
`You know Orion always comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,
And rising on his hands, he looks in on me
Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something
I should have done by daylight, and indeed,
After the ground is frozen, I should have done
Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful
Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney
To make fun of my way of doing things,
Or else fun of Orion's having caught me.
Has a man, I should like to ask, no rights
These forces are obliged to pay respect to?'
So Brad McLaughlin mingled reckless talk
Of heavenly stars with hugger-mugger farming,
Till having failed at hugger-mugger farming
He burned his house down for the fire insurance
And spent the proceeds on a telescope
To satisfy a lifelong curiosity
About our place among the infinities.

`What do you want with one of those blame things?'
I asked him well beforehand. `Don't you get one!'
`Don't call it blamed; there isn't anything
More blameless in the sense of being less
A weapon in our human fight,' he said.
`I'll have one if I sell my farm to buy it.'
There where he moved the rocks to plow the ground
And plowed between the rocks he couldn't move,
Few farms changed hands; so rather than spend years
Trying to sell his farm and then not selling,
He burned his house down for the fire insurance
And bought the telescope with what it came to.
He had been heard to say by several
`The best thing that we're put here for's to see;
The strongest thing that's given us to see with's
A telescope. Someone in every town
Seems to me owes it to the town to keep one.
In Littleton it might as well be me.'
After such loose talk it was no surprise
When he did what he did and burned his house down.
Mean laughter went about the town that day
To let him know we weren't the least imposed on,
And he could wait---we'd see to him tomorrow.
But the first thing next morning we reflected
If one by one we counted people out
To get so we had no one left to live with.
For the least sin, it wouldn't take us long
For to be social is to be forgiving.
Our thief, the one who does our stealing from us,
We don't cut off from coming to church suppers,
But what we miss we go to him and ask for.
He promptly gives it back, that is if still
Uneaten, unworn out, or undisposed of.
It wouldn't do to be too hard on Brad
About his telescope. Beyond the age
Of being given one for Christmas gift,
He had to take the best way he knew how
To find himself in one. Well, all we said was
He took a strange thing to be roguish over.
Some sympathy was wasted on the house,
A good old-timer dating back along;
But a house isn't sentient; the house
Didn't feel anything, and if it did
Why not regard it as a sacrifice,
And an old-fashioned sacrifice by fire,
Instead of a new-fashioned one at auction?

At one stroke (of a match), Brad had to turn
To earn a living on the Concord railroad,
As under-ticket-agent at a station
Where his job, when he wasn't selling tickets,
Was setting out, up track and down, not plants
As on a farm, but planets, evening stars
That varied in their hue from red to green.
He got a good glass for six hundred dollars.
His new job gave him leisure for stargazing.
Often he bid me come and have a look
Up the brass barrel, velvet black inside,
At a star quaking in the other end.
I recollect a night of broken clouds
And underfoot snow melted down to ice,
And melting further in the wind to mud.
Bradford and I had out the telescope.
We spread our two legs as we spread its three,
Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it,
And standing at our leisure till the day broke,
Said some of the best things we ever said.
That telescope was christened the Star-Splitter,
Because it didn't do a thing but split
A star in two or three, the way you split
A globule of quicksilver in your hand
With one stroke of your finger in the middle.
It's a star-splitter if there ever was one,
And ought to do some good if splitting stars

'Sa thing to be compared with splitting wood.
We've looked and looked, but after all where are we?
Do we know any better where we are,
And how it stands between the night tonight
And a man with a smoky lantern chimney?
How different from the way it ever stood?

(About the author: Robert Frost [1875-1963] was the first American poet to be accepted as the first,
truly American voice in poetry internationally. Part of this acceptance derives from the fact that he deeply
knew American political and social culture. Another part follows from his description of America's
place in the world, its striving ideals and its crippling realities, usually cleverly disguised as
natural imagery so much a part of the stunning American lanscape.)

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