History of scintillation


Astronomy could be the oldest science, and the twinkling of stars was one of the earliest celestial phenomena studied by man. Its cause has been sought for millennia: not until Robert Hooke (Micrographia, London 1665) was its atmospheric origin explained in any detail. The understanding in terms of optical physics was developed during the 1960's, while current studies focus on scintillation properties in the non-ideal and rapidly changing atmosphere. 
   Australian aboriginals  (perhaps 10,000 years ago)

"What we see as twinkling stars is actually the flickering of distant campfires of those people who live in the sky, perhaps our ancestors."


   Aristotle  (ca - 340)

"The planets are near, and our vision reaches them. The fixed stars are too far, and their distance causes our vision to waver."


   Tycho Brahe  (ca 1580)

"The enormous space to the stars takes part in the celestial daily motion. Planets do not thus rotate, and therefore do not scintillate."


   Johannes Kepler  (ca 1610)

"Scintillation is a true change in stellar brightness and color. Venus scintillates, but the Moon does not, proving Venus' variability."


   Robert Hooke  (ca 1660)

"... those bright scintillations near the Horizon, are not by much so quick and sudden in their consecutions of one another, as the nimbler twinklings of Stars nearer the Zenith.  The true cause ... is from the inflection, or multiplicate refraction of those Rays of light within the body of the Atmosphere."


   Isaac Newton  (ca 1700)

"Scintillation disappears in telescopes, and must originate in the air. Telescopes should be placed on the tops of the highest mountains."


Comments are welcome to dainis@astro.lu.se

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