Viewing the Moon Across Time

RASC—Eyes on the Universe for 150 Years


Viewing the Moon Across Time

Welcome to the the RASC's sesquicentennial observing project! The information below allows you to tailor-make your own RASC 150th observing project using materials of the time, for use now.


Is observing with Andrew Elvins still possible?

Observing, the experience of seeing astronomical phenomena for oneself, of encountering alien worlds through direct observation, was established as a core activity of the RASC (and its predecessor organizations) from the very start (TAS Minutes 1868-1869, 30-46). That spirit continues to animate much of what the RASC does—visible across the spectrum of its observational and educational programs, and reflected in the title and purpose of the Society’s renowned Observer’s Handbook (Bishop 2008).

Our predecessors of 150 years ago were quite keen to take part in astronomical science through active observing, rather than to subsist as astronomical couch potatoes of the Dominion, resigned to reading with longing of others' astronomical observations, and discoveries. The blueprint for their meetings included among the activities “Viewing objects etc”. And, in our first year of existence, Andrew Elvins and colleagues spent considerable energy planning for, and observing the solar eclipse of 1869 August 7 (TAS minute book 1868-1869, pp. 28-53 ). The major solar-system phenomena have been of perennial interest to amateurs, and the Moon offered then, as it does now, a luminoiusly attractive and immediately attainable object to many.

If we could be transported back to 1868-1869 to observe the first Society members observing, we would doubtless be struck by both the familiar, and the unfamiliar in their art of viewing the heavens. Literally going back 150 years remains somewhat impracticable, given the present state of casual “consumer” time travel. How many of us, nonetheless, have wondered what it would be like to observe in the period of the Society’s formation? If there was a way to stand under the vault of the sky alongside Andrew Elvins and his colleagues, it would make for memorable participation in the RASC sesquicentennial.

In fact there is a creative and disciplined way to come as close as possible to observing with our astronomical forerunners of one hundred and fifty years ago. For equipment and techniques it would make sense to:

  1. research the observing equipment, and techniques which would have been generally available to Elvins and his colleagues for viewing the Moon in 1868;
  2. identify the materials and techniques of the time for representing the Moon;
  3. procure original equipment, guides, and drawing materials, or reasonable modern substitutes and analogues;
  4. gain familiarity and competence in the use of the relevant equipment, and techniques of the 1860s.

And, to the relevant apparatus and techniques, could be added the materials for recreating the perceptual context of the observations of 150 years ago through:

  1. finding representative examples of 1860s depictions of the Moon;
  2. reading the most generally accepted contemporary theories put forth to explain the observed lunar features;

in order to cultivate an 1860s view of the Moon through repeated exposure to 1860s modes of lunar depiction, and 1860s explanations of the nature and origins of lunar features, which can be at hand in the mind’s eye when observing.

To observe with Andrew Elvins we would in fact be following the broad procedures employed in experimental and cognitive archaeology. And that is what Viewing the Moon Across Time is about.

(turn to the next page Experimental archaeology for further information)

Last modified: 
Sunday, February 13, 2022 - 4:14pm