I stumbled upon the following cartoon on Youtube and, since it’s about a mad astronomer, I thought I’d post it here.

It strikes me how  comic depictions of astronomical observatories, such as the example on the left,  always seem to show the telescope pointing out of the dome like the barrel of a gun poking out of a turret, which they never do. I venture to suggest that a great many members of the general public think that’s how they work also. I wonder why?

Perhaps it’s connected with the origins of the verb form of telescope which the OED gives as

a. trans. To force or drive one into another (or into something else) after the manner of the sliding tubes of a hand-telescope: usually said in reference to railway carriages in a collision. Also fig. to combine, compress, or condense (a number of things) into a more compact or concise form; to combine or conflate (several things, or one thing with another); to shorten by compression.

b. intr. To slide, run, or be driven one into another (or into something else); to have its parts made to slide in this manner (see quot. 1882 for telescoping n. and adj. at Derivatives, s.v. telescoping below); to collapse so that its parts fall into one another (quot. 1905).

The inference being that large astronomical telescopes must extend in the same way as the much smaller hand-held variety. Anyway, this idea is taken to a ludicrious extreme in the cartoon, with hilarious consequences…


5 Responses to “Telescoping”

  1. I remember seeing a similar cartoon whilst working at Yerkes, and we had the same discussion there – why do cartoons nearly always seem to show the telescope sticking out of the dome. Is this how the public really think telescopes operate. I came to the conclusion that the reason is – if they didn’t illustrate them sticking out of the dome they would not feature in the cartoon, just the dome would.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    A protruding telescope makes the purpose of the building visually explicit. Plenty of other buildings have domes, such at St Paul’s cathedral in London. The slit would not be obvious enough to differentiate an observatory for most readers.

  3. Grumpy Old Woman Says:

    Fascinating that the discussion is centred on the telescope. I feel it sort of confirms my view (based on years of observation….) that the actions of the astronomer are unexceptional as astronomers go ……………..

  4. That’s a great cartoon, I hadn’t seen that episode of The Pink Panther before. And, they got the physics of free fall *nearly* correct.

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