AAO launch of Fred Watson's new book Stargazer—The Life and Times of the Telescope

Stargazer front cover

It is literally the world’s most far-reaching invention. It can unlock nature’s secrets in the remotest corners of the Universe. It is a time machine, allowing us to look billions of years into the past for answers to some of our most profound questions.

In its four hundred year history, the telescope has progressed from a crudely fashioned tube holding a couple of spectacle lenses to colossal structures housed in space-age cathedrals. Such giants attract universal attention, even among people with no interest in astronomy. They sit right at the boundary between the mysteries of the Universe and today’s cutting-edge technology.

How did this potent mix of art, science and engineering reach its present level of sophistication? The history of the telescope is a rich story of ingenuity and perseverance involving some of the most colourful figures of the scientific world. It begins in ancient times, with enigmatic whispers of telescope-like inventions finding their way into classical writing. It gathers momentum through the Renaissance, with the first recorded telescope bursting onto the scene in the middle of a diplomatic crisis in seventeenth century Holland. And it comes to fruition with the increasing demands of astronomers making the instrument ever more refined, more capable—and bigger.

Stargazer brings the story of the telescope to a general readership for the first time. Written by one of Australia’s best-loved astronomers, it presents up-to-date historical scholarship in a lively and uniquely entertaining manner. It is the perfect introduction to the telescope in the run-up to its four hundredth birthday.

Published by Allen & Unwin. Hard cover, fully illustrated, with eight pages of colour.


About the author


Fred Watson comes from a long line of Freds, but seems to have been the first in the family to become an astronomer. He now says he has spent so many years hanging around large telescope domes that he has started to look like one. Fred has worked at both of Britain’s Royal Observatories, and at their overseas telescopes in Hawaii and the Canary Islands. In Australia during the 1980s, he helped to pioneer the use of fibre optics in astronomy, paving the way for today’s large-scale surveys of stars and galaxies. He is now Astronomer-in-Charge of the Anglo-Australian Observatory at Coonabarabran in north-western NSW.  Fred is also an award-winning writer and broadcaster on astronomy, and an occasional performer of the galactic blues with the help of his old Gibson guitar.

Fred Watson signing his bookFred with his new book.
Fred Watson signing copies of his book and Fred with his new book.
Images courtesey of Shaun Amy, more images are available.