Photo by Abulic Monkey on Flikr.Astronomy is a rather sheltered and tranquil endeavor, unless your telescope spontaneously snaps itself in half and crushes you. I thought the warning sign above was hilarious, but it got me thinking. Astronomy is dangerous. No, seriously astronomy is dangerous. The historical precedents tell a clear story. Long ago emperors and kings would stake their claims on the constancy of the heavens. The rulers employed astronomers (or astrologers, in the past these two professions were not distinguishable, but today their differences could not be more evident. Astronomers are like astrologers they way car is to carpet) to predict such things as the traverse of the Sun each day, the waxing and waning of the Moon, the procession of the constellations with the seasons, eclipses, comets, and supernovae. Astronomers had a good thing going working for kings. Alas, all good things must come to an end. Eclipses, comets, and supernovae sapped the precision prediction power of would be astronomers and the cosmic forecasters paid the price in their blood. In the case of supernovae the astronomers didn't stand a chance. Take for example supernova 1054. Chinese, north American, Persian and Arabic astronomers all observed and recorded it as being bright enough to see in daylight for 23 days and visible 653 nights! All of Europe failed to notice the brightest star in the sky? Perhaps the church saw to it that everyone who saw the star would also see their heads removed from their bodies.
Astronomers are clever in the face of danger and have always gotten the last laugh. Take one last historical anecdote. Galileo was persecuted by the Catholic church for his scientific views, but through cosmic karma Galileo's middle finger (I have seen it with my own eyes at the Museum of History of Science in Florence) has been stickin it to the Vatican for the last three hundred years.