Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Netherlands Adventures!: De Sterrewacht/Leiden Observatory

Last weekend was Open Monumentendag-- Open Monument Day.  Basically, there are buildings that are considered to be monuments around the Netherlands (I'm pretty sure this weekend was bigger than just Leiden) but they're often private property.  So last Saturday and/or Sunday, these doors opened up and we get to come visit for free.  So I took advantage of this.  

I really wanted to see the Observatory at Leiden University, but you can only go up and see the telescopes if you're a student in the astrophysics or astronomy programs.  I am not in those programs.  I'm a lowly passerby in the philosophy department at Leiden University.  So I was really excited to hear about this day!

When I set out to go visit the observatory, I didn't realize what a language challenge this was going to be.  The man at the desk outside the observatory said that he only knew a little bit of English.  But I didn't know how to ask him what I wanted to ask him in Dutch, and even if I did ask him in Dutch, I wouldn't have understood his answer to me.  Even though I asked, "Spreek jij engels?" (Do you speak English?), I still felt like I was stepping on his toes.  I am, after all, a guest in this country where everyone speaks Dutch.  It's a good thing that, in my experience, everyone is pretty patient when I do ask (in Dutch) if we can speak English instead of Dutch.  And if they don't know English and I don't know enough Dutch, they're even more patient as we try to mime what we need and speak in broken Dutch.

I had an even more humbling experience with Dutch though not long after I talked to the man at the table outside.  It turns out that the entire tour I was on was in Dutch.  All of it.  But I didn't complain.  Yes, I was getting maybe 5% of what the tour guide was saying (he didn't speak as clearly or as slowly as my Dutch teacher does), but everyone else on the tour seemed to understand Dutch.  Why complain?

So while I don't have a lot of information to report back (I can tell you that I understood that the tour guide was a lot of history and a number of things were "belangrijk," or important, and that he gave a short tutorial about how the giant telescope worked-- there were "kleine" or little knobs you could use to fine-tune the telescope), but I do have pictures of some of the things I saw:
I don't think you can have a proper observatory without pictures of galaxies and supernova... that's pretty much the extent
of my space knowledge... sorry.  I'm an English major, what can I do?

To orient you, the picture above is the canal that goes around the main part of Leiden.  I live to the right of this canal just a couple blocks away.  I'm basically neighbors with the observatory.  Below, you can see that the observatory neighbors the Hortus Botanicus.  They're essentially connected.  Maybe that tells you something about how small and close things are around Leiden.

The BIG telescope :)

I wasn't kidding-- it's huge!  And it looked like it was pretty easy to move, too.

Side note: did you know the dome that covers this telescope is able to turn?  I didn't know that was a thing until the tour
guide started turning a crank and the walls started moving.  I was confused and I definitely jumped in surprise.

Fun Fact: Einstein came to Leiden and did some important
work on his Theory of Relativity here.  I'm not sure who the
other people in the picture are, but I'm sure they're nice
people too.  Very hard working and intelligent men.

We finished up the tour in this hall, pretty much.  I'm happy that I got a chance to visit the telescope (even if they didn't turn it on... I checked.  I took a peek and all I could see was black in the eye piece).  I just wish that I knew more Dutch to have had a really great visit.  But that's no one's fault but my own.

Thanks for Reading!  Tot Ziens!


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