And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

tirsdag 30. august 2011

That Man may stare himself beyond Significance

We find, therefore, under this orderly arrangement, a wonderful symmetry in the universe, and a definite relation of harmony in the motion and magnitude of the orbs, of a kind that is not possible to obtain in any other way.
- The Harmonies of the World, Johannes Kepler

God hath made stars the foil
To set off virtues;
- The Foil, George Herbert

Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.
- Critique of Practical Reason, Immanuel Kant

Half-sequestered among trees and bushes, situated by one of the pathways through Yorkshire Museum Garden lies the York Observatory, an unostentatious, almost timid little building of octagonal shape. I first became aware of its existence several weeks after my arrival by more or less stumbling across it on a day I happened to walk that middle pathway running past the observatory. I remember being taken aback a bit by my discovery since it blends very well in with its surroundings, chiefly due to its stone having the same colours as the neighbouring trees. An equally unostentatious note in the window heralded quietly and shyly that the observatory was open every Saturday from 11.30 a.m. to 02.00 p.m., and I think this note sparked an immediate interest. However, I came to spend my Saturdays elsewhere during my stay, either because I would sleep long or because my attention would be directed elsewhere, and it is important to remember here just how unpresuming and plain this building really is, for how else dare I account for my neglect something as awe-inspiring as an observatory? Consequently it took me until one of the last weeks of my stay to pop by, and also this was by pure chance. I was on my way back from the post office and in passing I noticed that the observatory was open and I went in. 

  A road diverging into the middle and the lower path. Beyond the little lamp-post by the middle track, nestled among trees and evergreens lies the York Observatory.

Considering how awesome the subject and purpose of an observatory is, stepping inside this huddled building was a bit anticlimactic, both due to its modest size and the rather palpable lack of enthusiam prevalent in the blank stares of its staff. The Observatory is apparently first and foremost a science museum displaying a range of instruments from the early modern and modern period, although I did learn at a much later stage that the telescope is actually functioning and open for the public to utilise. Somehow this eluded me, yet during my very brief stay I noticed some interesting microscopes and found the exhibition to be enjoyable. 

  From left to right: revolving stage microscope from the 18th century, swift "paragon" binocular microscope from the early 20th century, Collins Mineralogists microscope from the 19th century.

"Faith" is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see -
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency.
- Emily Dickinson

The conception of the York Observatory took place at the first meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which was hosted in 1831 by Yorkshire Philosophical Society. The structure was completed in the winter of 1832-33 and its designer may have been William Wilkins, whereas the roof is believed to have been designed by John Smeaton who is more famous for Eddystone Lighthouse. The cost of the project was £300, an investment it took six years for the Yorkshire Philosophical Society to recover from, but which proved most auspicious when Halley's Comet came around in 1835 and an eclipse of the sun occurred the consecutive year. 

The telescope above, a refractor telescope, was crafted by Thomas Cooke of York in 1850, but already in 1844 the Observatory was presented with a transit telescope that allowed for great accuracy in measuring the position of the stars. In 1858 the Observatory was refurbished and in the same year Donati's comet could be beheld. During the 20th century the building was for a long period neglected and out of use, but Yorkshire Philosophical Society raised enough money for its restoration in 1981.

York Observatory is another of the numerous little gems tucked away in this marvellous city and although it is in many ways humble and seemingly insignificant, it has its profound value. I just hope that one day I will come across some event held here where I may try the telescope of Thomas Cooke and stare myself beyond significance.

2 kommentarer:

  1. Eg kunne gjerne hatt eit observatorium som det. Va det ikkje Nakkane vi vart einige om at måtte vere ein god plass for stjernekiking?

  2. Jau, stemmer det, og eg meiner framleis at det hadde vore eit stort pluss.