An astronomer called Cervantes

This article was originally published in Spanish  in the website of   Fundación madri+d. To access the original version, click here.The English translation was published in OpenMind, an interdisciplinary platform with bilingual articles in Spanish and English by te Fundación BBVA. The English version is here.

On the name of the satellites of Jupiter discovered by Galileo

Miguel de Cervantes died in 1616 a pauper. He is buried in the convent Trinitarians nuns in Madrid, where there is a search now underway for his tomb. As well as his monumental work Don Quixote, which he himself considered the first modern novel, his extensive literary production included poetry and theater. It also appears that his scientific culture must have been considerable, as he kept in touch with the advances that were made at the start of the 17th century following the invention of the telescope. It is even possible that he made a significant scientific contribution, naming the satellites of the planet Jupiter, which were identified when Galileo Galilei, the astronomer from Pisa, pointed the new instrument to the sky.

With the publication of “Sidereus Nuncius” (the Sidereal Messenger) in March 1610, Galileo began a real revolution, not only in astronomy but also in philosophy. He presented solid evidence overturning the interpretations of the world that had been firmly in place for centuries. In his work Galileo shows us an irregular and imperfect moon; he identifies a large number of new stars that are weaker than those seen with the naked eye; he reveals the complex nature of the Milky Way; and he discovers four bodies orbiting Jupiter, delivering a devastating blow to the Ptolemaic cosmology. In successive letters he continued his demolition of the static vision accepted by the Aristotelian orthodoxy. He observed the phases of Venus and the rings of Saturn, without identifying them as such; he also interpreted correctly that the sunspots are real features on the surface of the sun. In these and other discoveries, Galileo became immersed in major controversies that almost cost him his life when he faced the Roman Inquisition (censured in 1616 and condemned in 1633 to permanent house arrest).  One of these disputes, limited to the academic arena and not resolved until the 20th century, involved the German astronomer Simon Marius (the Latin version of the German name Simon Mayr or Mayer), who claimed co-discovery of Jupiter’s satellites and was attacked roundly by Galileo as a result. The alleged plagiarism, accepted for 300 years, was disproved decades ago, although references to it can still be found in some texts. Let’s look at the sequence of events:

Back to the Cosmos

At least, to “Cosmic Diaries”. First, thanks to Franck Marchis for all the hard work he has investing setting up the system again. And back to the Cosmos, since I have starting to do Science, after a lot of time immersed in bureaucratic and more technical work (a 6.5m telescope?). Last week we had  the

Observing Saturn

Amazing experience! With my student Jorge Lillo, I have been observing Saturn with the 2.2m telescope and Astralux, a lucky imaging camara capable of delivering images with resolution almost similar to those of the Hubble Space Telescope. If you do not beleive, have a look…

Planet Formation in Action?

Amazing results from my friend Nuria Huélamo and her collaborators …. From the ESO website: “Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope an international team of astronomers has been able to study the short-lived disc of material around a young star that is in the early stages of making a planetary system. For the first time a

Return to … Paranal

After ten years … again back to Paranal. One of the most amazing observatories in the world, if not the most alien. Mauna Kea in Hawaii is very beautiful, but gentle, with the smooth slopes of the volcanoes. So gentle, that it is difficult to notice the presence of the Mauna Loa, the largest volcano

Renovation of the German-Spanish agreement for the future of Calar Alto

After many moths and a lot of work …. (and this is one of the reasons why I was not active writing posts, or in science) ….

We have an agreement! Calar Alto Observatory (Almería, Southern Spain) will continue it scientific operations up to the end of 2018. I am attaching the press release.

On December 2nd 2010, the German Max Planck Society (MPG) and Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) have signed an agreement in order to operate the Calar Alto Observatory at the German-Spanish Astronomical Centre during the period 2014-2018. The German-Spanish Astronomical Centre (CAHA) is a joint venture of the German MPG and the Spanish CSIC. Both partners renew their commitment with the German-Spanish Astronomical Centre (CAHA), to mantain the observatory at the forefront of scientific research in the coming years.

The new agreement poses special focus on the development and scientific exploitation of the new CARMENES spectrograph for the 3.5 m telescope. CARMENES (Calar Alto High-Resolution search for M dwarfs with Exoearths with Near-infrared and optical Échelle Spectrographs) is presently being designed and will be capable of detecting habitable planets similar to Earth around the smallest and coolest stars of the solar neighbourhood in our Galaxy. A minimum of six hundred telescope nights are granted for this search during the five year period.

The German-Spanish Astronomical Centre was born in 1973 through an international agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Kingdom of Spain. The institution operates the most outstanding astronomical observatory placed on continental Europe, whose facilities have played a key role in the development of astronomy in Spain during the last decades. The funding and operation of the Observatory were performed by the Max Planck Society, through its Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (Heidelberg) until the end of 2003. Since 2004, the Calar Alto Observatory is operated jointly by the two partners MPG and CSIC (through its Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia, at Granada). CAHA Director, D. Barrado, states: “The new agreement, signed in 2010, guarantees the future of the Calar Alto Observatory, which will keep its position as a central piece of Spanish and German astronomy for many more years.”