Astrophotometer, Spurgeon on Kepler

For my undergrad senior design project a multitude of years ago, where today’s FPGA, and mixed signal chips might have saved me hundreds of hours of wirewrapping, I used a massive number of digital logic gates, vacuum tubes, and an Apple IIe to build a computer controlled photometer. My adviser said I probably held the record for the most time invested in a senior design project under his tenure.

Algol AB captured by the CHARA interferometer.

In a nutshell, the purpose of the device was to capture data on binary stars, ideally ones which could not be identified visually. This would be accomplished by analyzing a given star systems color data over a period of time. Ie, a hot star revolving around a cooler star will show rather substantial difference in colors vs time. While one could do this manually with a photometer, filter sets, and a paper tablet… its really really hard to do with a binary star with a very short period as you can’t consistently copy down data at a high enough rate. Its also hard to do for stars with a longer period, being instruments drift over time, and one slip up in calibration, and all bets are off. Thus the idea that if we could automate the data capture, even if we violated the sampling theorem a bit, enough samples over a long period of time could provide meaningful results. Alas, like a lot of undergrad projects, it was hard enough just to prove out the hardware… it would have taken another semester to capture data and run some analysis to prove this out, and grad school was calling.

So folks would ask, what am I working on… and my reply would be, some gear which hooks up a computer to a telescope, and pretty much leave it at that. The big deal part, which was automated undersampling, of U, V, and B spectral data on binary stars is just too far away from the average Joes, or even astronomy hobbyist of the times experience. It wouldn’t make much sense to them… but computerized telescopes, sure, most everyone could see that such might be a cool thing.

One of the things which is very helpful in the binary star phenomena or pretty much anything which orbits is Kepler’s laws. Granted in 1600, it would be a couple hundred years before double stars were determined to orbit one another, so Kepler’s focus was on planets… but his law was found to apply to these was well.

Keplers third law


Keplers Laws:

1. The Law of Orbits: All planets move in elliptical orbits, with the sun at one focus.

2. The Law of Areas: A line that connects a planet to the sun sweeps out equal areas in equal times.

3. The Law of Periods: The square of the period of any planet is proportional to the cube of the semimajor axis of its orbit.

Today, such is not terribly difficult to understand, and well within the domain of an interested high school student. However in 1600, even an interested person would likely run into trouble with it due to a lack of mathematical background.

Kepler states the following:

But if there be any man who is too dull to receive this science I advise that leaving the school of astronomy he follow his own path and desist from this wandering through the universe and lifting up his natural eyes with which he alone can see pour himself out in his own heart in praise of God the Creator being certain that he gives no less worship to God than the astronomer to whom God has given to see more clearly with his inward eye and who for what he has himself discovered both can and will glorify God.

Spurgeon provides commentary on this

That is I think a very beautiful illustration of what you may say to any poor illiterate man in your congregation Well my friend if you cannot comprehend this system of theology which I have explained to you if these doctrines seem to you to be utterly incomprehensible if you cannot follow me in my criticism upon the Greek text if you cannot quite catch the poetical idea that I tried to give you just now which is so charming to my own mind nevertheless if you know no more than that your Bible is true that you yourself are a sinner and that Jesus Christ is your Saviour go on your way and worship and adore and think of God as you are able to do Never mind about the astronomers and the telescopes and the stars and the sun and the moon worship the Lord in your own fashion Altogether apart from my theological knowledge and my explanation of the doctrines revealed in the Scriptures the Bible itself and the precious truth you have received into your own soul through the teaching of the Holy Spirit will be quite enough to make you an acceptable worshipper of the Most High God.

From Page 148 of Spurgeons “The Art of Illustration

My initial thought on both was like egads, what sort of elitists were you guys. I totally understand that some theology gets crazy complicated and hard to understand. An evening with one of Wolfhart Pannenberg‘s books will do that fast, or even one of Robert Jenson’s texts (other than the one to his granddaughter)… and the same can be said about Spurgeon, when he stepped aside from the pulpit… but over time I think I see where they are coming from. Its not that they are elitist as much as they want to keep the main thing the main thing. Its really easy to get wrapped up in the weeds, so much so that one starts missing the point… and left unchecked, the simple news of the Gospel ends up getting left aside.

As I stated earlier on a friends facebook page…

Sure, the average Christian will say we are justified by faith and not be works… but then in actions will pretty much preach that works are where its at. I saw this a lot in teens especially after a moral failure of one type or another… they can say Eph 2:8-9 in Sunday school, but by the afternoon, they will doubt God loves them, or that they now need to do a bunch of good works to get to heaven.

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