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Situs Terrae Circulis Coelestibus, Circun Datae, 1660, Johannes van Loon (circa 1611-1686), engraver, Amsterdam. 1985.33.111 © Stewart Museum

Perseids Quiz

Each year in August, the Perseids return to light up the sky and delight young and old alike. These shooting stars get their name from their point of origin in the constellation Perseus.

While they’re at their peak this week, the Stewart Museum has prepared a quiz featuring its extensive collection of historical objects related to astronomy. You can find some of these objects in the exhibitions History and Memory and Nights. Science geeks and history lovers, test your knowledge!

Question 1 – Which of these navigation instruments does not use the stars?

  1. The astrolab
  2. The octant
  3. The traverse board
  4. The Jacob’s staff
  • Astrolab, Circa 1600, Spain, Brass. 1996.4 © Stewart Museum
  • Octant, 1758, Alexander Rutherford (1695-1779), London, England. Ebony, mahogany, brass, ivory, glass. 1979.37.1 © Stewart Museum
  • Traverse board, 17th century, France
Wood, bone, cord. 1963.3 © Stewart Museum
  • Jacob’staff, 1760, Johannes van Keulen (-1770), Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wood, brass. 1983.52 © Stewart Museum

Question 2 – On this map, who or what have the many craters on the Moon’s surface been named after?

  1. Famous astronomers
  2. Lakes and craters on Earth
  3. Gods and goddesses from Greco-Roman mythology
  4. Family members of the person who named them
Noms des tâches de la lune [Names of the Dark Areas on the Moon], 1744, Nicolas Bion (1652-1733), mathematician, Plate no. 22, from L’usage des globes célestes et terrestre, et des Sphères suivant les différens systèmes du monde, Paris, France. 1979.535 © Stewart Museum

 

Question 3 – True or false? In the Middle Ages, people thought the Earth was flat.

  1. True
  2. False
Situs Terrae Circulis Coelestibus, Circun Datae, 1660, Johannes van Loon (circa 1611-1686), engraver, Amsterdam. 1985.33.111 © Stewart Museum

 

Question 4 – Which of these scientists was the first to perfect and to use the astronomic glasses to observe the stars?

  1. Johannes Kepler
  2. Nicolas Copernic
  3. Isaac Newton
  4. Galileo Galilei
Telescope, Italy, 18th century. 1976.84.2 © Stewart Museum

 

Quiz answers

Question 1 – Which of these navigation instruments does not use the stars?

3. The traverse board

The traverse board is a memory aid that allows sailors to note the direction and speed of the ship as well as the navigation conditions during a watch. The round part represents a compass rose, with the same points as a ship’s compass. Every 30 minutes, a peg is inserted to mark the trajectory. The rectangular part is the table of speeds, in knots, recorded every hour. At the end of his watch, the navigator would transcribe the data into the logbook.

While the traverse board served to measure longitude, the astrolab, octant and Jacob’s staff made it possible to calculate latitude, i.e. the North-South position. This is done by measuring the elevation angle of the sun and of the North star above the horizon.

Question 2 – On this map, who or what have the many craters on the Moon’s surface been named after?

1. Famous astronomers

Nicolas Bion

An engineer and cosmographer under Louis XIV, Nicolas Bion attracted the period’s scientific minds and great scholars to his Parisian workshop. Using a spyglass with two lenses, he observed the unevenness of the Moon’s surface. The 48 craters that he identified, reproduced on the plates above, were named in honour of famous astronomers like Copernic and Kepler. As for the areas that were thought to be seas, they all had names from poetry.

Question 3 – True or false? In the Middle Ages, people thought the Earth was flat.

2. False

The Earth is round

Thanks, in particular, to the writings and studies of Aristotle, Ptolemy of Alexandria and Eratosthenes, scientists in the Middle Ages were well aware that the Earth was not flat. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas, an expert on Aristotle, asserted that the Earth was round. Plus, the study of geometry and astrology by the Church allowed advances in this field.

The popular belief that Christopher Columbus proved the Earth is round is also false. In fact, Columbus never reached the Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t until Magellan’s voyage, in 1522, that the first trip around the world was made. At the time, the roundness of the Earth was not questioned—it was a given. Rather, it was the size of the Earth that was up for debate.

Fun fact: Columbus never realized that he had discovered new lands; he claimed he had made it to Asia until his death.

Question 4 – Which of these scientists was the first to perfect and to use the astronomic glasses to observe the stars?

4. Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei

The famous mathematician Galileo (1564-1642) created a first astronomical telescope, in 1609, inspired by Dutch eyeglass makers. It consisted of two lenses, one converging, the other diverging. He used Venetian glass for its qualities, which he polished himself to get the right curvature.

During his lifetime, Galileo made around sixty telescopes, each one stronger than the last. He was able to magnify objects to up to 50 times their size. He used this instrument to observe the sky, and discovered, among other things, that the surface of the Moon was uneven. His inventions would allow Johannes Kepler to perfect the refracting telescope, and Isaac Newton, in 1668, to invent the first reflecting telescope.

Références

Atelier du patrimoine maritime de Dahouët, “Tenue de l’estime – Le Renard,” Blog of the Atelier du patrimoine maritime de Dahouët, online, July 2020, http://patrimoinedahouet.over-blog.com/article-tenue-de-l-estime-le-renard-91451038.html
Bion, Nicolas, L’usage des globes célestes et terrestres et des sphères, suivant des différents systèmes du monde ; précédé d’un traité de cosmographie, (1751).
Boulanger, Philippe, Mythes et réalités sur le Moyen Âge, Lecture, 2018.
Russel, Jeffrey, Inventing the Flat Earth. New York, Praeger, 1991.
Centre National d’histoire des sciences, “Astrolabe,” Mesurer le ciel et la Terre, online, July 2020, http://www.astrolabium.be/mesurercieletterre/Astrolabe
“Johannes Kepler,” Futura sciences, online, July 2020, https://www.futura-sciences.com/sciences/personnalites/astronomie-johannes-kepler-236/
Lequeux, James, “Télescope de Newton,” Encyclopædia Universalis, online, July 2020, https://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/telescope-de-newton/
Turner, Anthony, “Nicolas Bion, Globe-Maker, Instrument-Maker, Author and Business-Man,” Globe Studies, No. 59/60, PAPERS, READ AT THE 12th INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM FOR THE STUDY OF GLOBES, JENA 2011 (2014).

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