Interview With the Late Robert Burnham, Author of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook

Like me, many amateur astronomers own a copy of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, in three volumes. It’s great reading, and since it was published by Dover, was extremely inexpensive. Unfortunately for the author, who was considered a bit eccentric, that meant that he didn’t earn very much money from this labor of love. He apparently died in 1993, living in a SRO hotel in San Diego.

Apparently he only gave one extensive interview in his entire life. You can read the entire interview, which is in two parts, at the Village Voice:

Your readers have probably noticed little bits of philosophy and other non-astronomical material here and there in the Handbook. You seem to have a strong interest in ancient cultures and world literature and art…

Yes. It may seem a curious thing, but I find that the most direct way to approach any ancient culture is through its art. It is a direct language, so to speak. Something beyond the use of words.




[w]hat sort of questions did you get from the elementary school groups?

There are two I would get repeatedly. First: Would you like to go to the Moon? Yes, if I was sure I could come back. Second: Have you ever seen a flying saucer?

Bob, I think I’d like to ask you that same question.

I think I have spent about as many hours under the stars as any observer living today. And I have never seen anything remotely resembling the photographs in UFO books and saucer magazines. Orbiting satellites — yes. Rocket launchings from Vandenberg — yes. Skyhook balloons. Meteors. Refueling tankers. High-flying flocks of birds. But nothing that couldn’t be rather easily identified as a known object.

So I am extremely skeptical of persons who claim to have UFO experiences repeatedly. And virtually all the contactee stories are quite literally unbelievable. Aside from the fact that there is never the slightest bit of really convincing evidence to study afterwards. Still, I feel that it’s unwise to be too dogmatic. There is nothing inherently impossible in the central idea.




I would rather see more people out actually looking at the stars, than
simply sitting in their armchairs, reading about the mind-boggling
discoveries being made with monster telescopes and space probes. This
‘gee-whiz’ approach is always a little irritating to me, because it
reinforces the impression that astronomy is only for the technically
sophisticated expert. The stars belong to us too.

Published in: on June 17, 2011 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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