Lesson #126: Cassini

I wandered into the living room this evening to find Urban Planner Housemate and Club Manager Housemate watching a program about the history of maps. I love maps, so I decided to join them.* We learned a stupid number of things in the course of the first hour (there are two more to come). Like how France was the first country to measure distances between cities and that early maps of Britain are very accurate regarding inlets and bays and other places where raiding/attack ships could be landed, but cliffs and rocky areas were left pretty generic and the political ramifications of dividing up the land in the Middle East in the early 20th century (which was done mostly because the British imperialists were pretty big dicks, but that’s not news). But the thing I found most interesting is who Cassini was.

Up until about half nine this evening, Cassini was nothing but a spacecraft NASA and the ESA sent to study Saturn. And I’ve learned all sorts of fun things from the spacecraft including what space sounds like and that there’s water on one of Saturn’s moons and what a lightning storm looks and sounds like from space. I did not imagine that Cassini was an actual person.

It turns out that Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625-1712) was an astronomical genius. He was responsible for being the first to accurately measure longitude using eclipses, figuring out that there’s a gap in Saturn’s rings (apparently called the Cassini Gap), co-discovering Jupiter’s big red spot and discovering four of Saturn’s moons, among other things.**

As an added bonus, the answer to Urban Planner Housemate’s question about at what point people stopped believing the earth was flat (my best guess was “sometime during the Renaissance because up until that, there wasn’t that much exploration being done”) is “no one ever believed the earth was flat. The ancient Greeks (specifically Eritosthenes) already had an idea of a spherical world and calculated the circumference of it. The Bible (specifically Isiah) also makes mention of a spherical world.”

*I live in a house full of geeks and I love it!

**More reading on Cassini the person here and here.

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