Skip to content

OU on the BBC: Personal Passions - Astronomy by Paul Nurse

Updated Friday 24th June 2005

Sir Paul Nurse (joint winner of 2001 Nobel Prize for Medicine for discoveries about the way cells work) was first given a telescope when he was eight years old. Here he talks about his passion for astronomy

Paul Nurse Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

Astronomy
Ptolemy lived in Alexandria, Egypt, from approximately 87-150 AD. He was an astronomer, mathematician and geographer and codified the Greek geocentric view of the universe. He believed the planets and sun orbited the Earth, this was known as the Ptolemaic system.

Nicolaus Copernicus, 1473-1543, was born in Torun, Poland and was a proponent of the theory that the Sun, and not the Earth, is at rest in the centre of the Universe. In about 1513 he first wrote a short account of his heliocentric (sun centred) cosmology. His system states that the Sun is the centre of the Universe with the other planets and stars revolving around it in circular orbits. His theory was thought implausible by the vast majority of his contemporaries and by most astronomers and natural philosophers until the middle of the seventeenth century.

The most notable people to defend his view were Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). It wasn’t until Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation (1687) that there was strong theoretical evidence to prove Copernicus’ system. Galileo was the first person to use the telescope to study the heavens systematically, he used his telescope to observe the Sun and discovered that it had dark patches on it now known as ‘sunspots’, through observing the ‘sunspots’ he realised that the sun was rotating on an axis.

Top Tips
1. All you need to get started in astronomy is your eyes and a map of the stars (a good one is a Planisphere which you can get from any good bookshop for around £10)

2. NEVER look directly at the sun with your naked eyes or with a pair of binoculars or telescope.

3. Next stage is getting a pair of binoculars. It’s important to use a sensible pair of binoculars - most people think you ones with large magnification but you don’t. You need low magnification but large object glass. You can get a decent pair for as little as £50.

4. Some people never move on from binoculars so don’t feel you have to.

Organisations
Society for Popular Astronomy
21 Peterscroft Avenue
Ashurst
Southampton
SO4 2AB

The Association for Astronomy Education
c/o The Royal Astronomical Society
Burlington House
Piccadilly
London
W1V 0NL
Tel: 0207 734 4582

Astronomical Association of Edinburgh
City Observatory
Calton Hill
Edinburgh
EH7 5AA
Tel: 0131 556 4365

Federation of Astronomical Societies
Whitehaven
Maytree Road
Lower Moor
Pershore
Worcestershire
WR10 2NY

British Interplanetary Society
27-29 South Lambeth Road
London
SW8 1SZ
British National Space Centre
Bridge Place
88/89 Eccleston Square
London
SW1V 1PT
Tel: 0207 215 0960

British Astronomical Association
Burlington House
Piccadilly
London
W1V 9AG
Tel: 0207 734 4145

Museums
Herschel House & Museum
19 New King Street
Bath
BA1 2BL
Tel: 01225 311342

National Maritime Museum
Romney Road
London
SE10 9NF
Tel: 0131 668 8100

City Observatory
Calton Hill
Edinburgh
EH7 5AA
Tel: 0131 556 4365

Joddrell Bank Science Centre & Arboretum
Macclesfield
Cheshire
SK11 9DL
Tel: 01477 571321
Fax: 01477 571618

The London Planetarium
Marylebone Road
London
NW1 5LR
Tel: 0207 935 6861
Fax: 0207 465 9862

Publications

Astronomy
Astronomy Now
Popular Astronomy
Sky & Telescope

Web Links

Royal Astronomical Society

Royal  Observatory, Greenwich

The National Maritime Museum

Armagh Observatory

AstroWeb:Astronomy/Astrophysics on the Internet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First broadcast: Thursday 8 Oct 1998 on BBC TWO

Personal Passions in more depth:

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?