Torchwood Observatory

Torchwood House
The fictional Torchwood House and Observatory from the BBC's Doctor Who CREDIT: Torchwood Estate (BBC)
Although I have been a fan of the new series of Doctor Who, I was a

little disappointed that the special effects people fell for the "telescope sticking out of the observatory" myth in last Saturday's episode. For those that haven't seen it, I'll try not to spoil the plot, but here is an image of Torchwood House complete with observatory and telescope. I cringed when I saw it, because this isn't how telescopes and observatories look, except in comic strips.

However, thinking about it a bit more, there is a precedent for this type of design from the period in which the episode was set. I'm thinking of the very distinctive "Leviathan of Parsonstown" or Birr Telescope. The Birr Telescope had been constructed by William Parsons, the 3rd Lord of Rosse, and was completed in early 1845. The mirror was a massive 72 inches, mounted in a gigantic 17 metre long tube and supported by 15 m high walls. You can see why it got the name Leviathan. Over the years that the telescope was operational it helped to identify the spiral nature in some objects then known as nebula. We now know that these are galaxies in their own right, but the Leviathan helped with the first steps of working that out. So, perhaps Doctor Who's computer graphics people didn't slip up after all. Perhaps they even incorporated a tip of the hat to an historical astronomical observatory.

Having said that, the sudden cessation of the beam of moonlight at the episode's climax appeared to have no reason other than it was no longer needed. Ah well.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 25th Apr 2006 (02:34 UTC) | Permalink
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