Surveying the night sky, a charming philosopher and his hostess, the Marquise, are considering thep ossibility of travelers from the moon. "What if they were skillful enough to navigate on the outer surface of our air, and from there, through their curiosity to see us, they angled for us like fish? Would that please you?" asks the philosopher. "Why not?" the Marquise replies. "As for me, I'd put myself into their nets of my own volition just to have the pleasure of seeing those who caught me."
In this imaginary conversation of three hundred years ago, readers can share the excitement of a new, extremely daring view of the uinverse. Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds (Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes), first published in 1686, is one of the best loved classics of the early French enlightenment. Through a series of informal dialogues that take place on successive evenings in the marquise's moonlit gardens, Fontenelle describes the new cosmology of the Copernican world view with matchles clarity, imagination, and wit. Moreover, he boldly makes his interlocutor a woman, inviting female participation in the almost exclusively male province of scientific discourse.
The popular Fontenelle lived through an entire century, from 1657 to 1757, and wrote prolifically. H. A. Hargreaves's fresh, appealing translation brings the author's masterpiece to new generations of readers, while the introduction by Nina Rattner Gelbart clearly demonstrates the importance of the Conversations for the history of science, of women, of literature, and of French civilization, and for the popularization of culture.
The essays in Copernirus and his Successors deal both with the influences on Copernicus, including that of Greek and Arabic thinkers, and with his own life and attitudes. They also examine how he was seen by contemporaries and finally describe his relationship to other scientists, including Galileo, Brahe and Kepler.
The first volume of Cosmos, his five-volume survey of the universe, appeared in 1845, though Humboldt had labored on the entire work for nearly half a century. He scrupulously sent sections of the work to other experts for suggestions and corrections. The last volume, put together from his notes after his death, appeared in 1861. The volumes were translated almost as rapidly as they appeared. This paperback edition reprints the Harper & Brothers edition, published in New York in 1858-59.
Why is the sky dark at night?The answer to this ancient and celebrated riddle, says Edward Harrison, seems relatively simple: the sun has set and is now shining on the other side of the earth. But suppose we were space travelers and far from any star. Out in the depths of space the heavens would be dark, even darker than the sky seen from the earth on cloudless and moonless nights. For more than four centuries, astronomers and other investigators have pondered the enigma of a dark sky and proposed many provocative but incorrect answers. Darkness at Night eloquently describes the misleading trails of inquiry and strange ideas that have abounded in the quest for a solution. In tracing this story of discovery--one of the most intriguing in the history of science--astronomer and physicist Harrison explores the concept of infinite space, the structure and age of the universe, the nature of light, and other subjects that once were so perplexing. He introduces a range of stellar intellects, from Democritus in the ancient world to Digges in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, followed by Kepler, Newton, Halley, Chéseaux, Olbers, Poe, Kelvin, and Bondi. Harrison's style is engaging, incisive yet poetic, and his strong grasp of history--from the Greeks to the twentieth century--adds perspective, depth, and scope to the narrative. Richly illustrated and annotated, this book will delight and enlighten both the casual reader and the serious inquirer.
In Decoding the Heavens, Jo Marchant tells for the first time the full story of the hundred-year quest to decipher the ancient Greek computer known as the Antikythera Mechanism. Along the way she unearths a diverse cast of remarkable characters and explores the deep roots of modern technology in ancient Greece and the medieval European and Islamic worlds. At its heart, this is an epic adventure and mystery, a book that challenges our assumptions about technology through the ages.
Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in Florence in 1632, was the most proximate cause of his being brought to trial before the Inquisition. Using the dialogue form, a genre common in classical philosophical works, Galileo masterfully demonstrates the truth of the Copernican system over the Ptolemaic one, proving, for the first time, that the earth revolves around the sun. Its influence is incalculable. The Dialogue is not only one of the most important scientific treatises ever written, but a work of supreme clarity and accessibility, remaining as readable now as when it was first published. This edition uses the definitive text established by the University of California Press, in Stillman Drake's translation, and includes a Foreword by Albert Einstein and a new Introduction by J. L. Heilbron.
The story of unmanned space exploration, from Viking to todayDreams of Other Worlds describes the unmanned space missions that have opened new windows on distant worlds. Spanning four decades of dramatic advances in astronomy and planetary science, this book tells the story of eleven iconic exploratory missions and how they have fundamentally transformed our scientific and cultural perspectives on the universe and our place in it. The journey begins with the Viking and Mars Exploration Rover missions to Mars, which paint a startling picture of a planet at the cusp of habitability. It then moves into the realm of the gas giants with the Voyager probes and Cassini's ongoing exploration of the moons of Saturn. The Stardust probe's dramatic round-trip encounter with a comet is brought vividly to life, as are the SOHO and Hipparcos missions to study the Sun and Milky Way. This stunningly illustrated book also explores how our view of the universe has been brought into sharp focus by NASA's great observatories--Spitzer, Chandra, and Hubble--and how the WMAP mission has provided rare glimpses of the dawn of creation. Dreams of Other Worlds reveals how these unmanned exploratory missions have redefined what it means to be the temporary tenants of a small planet in a vast cosmos.
People must have watched the skies from time immemorial. Human beings have always shown intellectual curiosity in abundance, and before the invention of modern distractions people had more time-and more mental energy-to devote to stargazing than we have. Megaliths, Chinese oracle bones, Babylonian clay tablets, and Mayan glyphs all yield evi- dence of early peoples' interest in the skies. To understand early astronomy we need to be familiar with various phenomena that could-and still can-be seen in the sky. For instance, it seems that some early people were interested in the points on the horizon where the moon rises or sets and marked the directions of these points with megaliths. These directions go through a complicated cycle-much more complicated than the cycle of the phases of the moon from new to full and back to new, and more complicated than the cycle of the rising and setting directions of the sun. Other peoples were interested in the irregular motions of the planets and in the way in which the times of rising of the various stars varied through the year, so we need to know about these phenomena, i. e., about retrogression and about heliacal rising, to usc the technical terms. The book opens with an explanation of these matters. Early astronomers did more than just gaze in awe at the heavenly bodies; they tried to understand the complex details of their movements. By 300 H. C.
The author does not attempt to give a general survey of early astronomy; rather, he chooses to present a few "episodes" and treats them in detail. However, first he provides the necessary astronomical background in his descriptive account of what you can see when you look at the sky with the naked eye, unblinkered by received knowledge, but with curiosity and wit. Chapter 1 deals with the arithmetical astronomy of ancient Mesopotamia where astronomy first was made an exact science. Next are treated Greek geometrical models for planetary motion, culminating in Ptolemy's equant models in his Almagest. Ptolemy does not assign them absolute size in this work, but, as is shown here, if we scale the models properly, they will yield good values, not only of the directions to the planets, but of the distances to them, as well. Thus one can immediately find the dimensions of the Copernican System from parameters in the Almagest - we have evidence that Copernicus did just that. Further, Islamic astronomers' modifications of Ptolemy's models by devices using only uniform circular motion are discussed, as are Copernicus's adoption of some of them. finally, it is made precise which bothersome problem was resolved by the heliocentric hypothesis, as it was by the Tychonic arrangement. Next, the Ptolemaic System, the first cosmological scheme to incorporate quantitative models, is described as Ptolemy himself did it in a recenlty recovered passage from his Planetary Hypotheses. Here he does assign absolute size to his models in order to fit them into the snugly nested spherical shells that made up his universe. This much maligned system was, in fact, a harmonious construct that remained the basis for how educated people thought of their world for a millennium and a half. Finally, after a brief review of the geometry of the ellipse, the author gives an elementary derivation of Kepler's equation, and shows how Kepler solved it, and further proves that a planet moves very nearly uniformly around the empty focus of its orbit. Thus an eccentric circular orbit with the empty "focus" as the equant point gives a good approximation to Kepler motions. The result of combining two such motions is then shown to be close to Ptolemy's planetary model. This book provides a fascinating look at the night sky and the techniques that early civilizations, particularly Babylonian and Greek, used to model planetary motions Aaboe does a masterful job of covering a wide array of intriguing topics in a relatively short book, and any effort expended on reading it will be well rewarded talented students at the high school age and college students who are interested in these topics would likely find this book very enjoyable and enriching Overall, the book is fascinating to read for several reasons, including its observational astronomical viewpoint, its rich historical and cultural content, and, of course, its exposition and explanation of ancient techniques of celestial predictions and modeling. ?MAA ONLINE
The brilliant German mathematician Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), one of the founders of modern astronomy, revolutionized the Copernican heliocentric theory of the universe with his three laws of motion: that the planets move not in circular but elliptical orbits, that their speed is greatest when nearest the sun, and that the sun and planets form an integrated system. This volume contains two of his most important works: The Epitome of Copernican Astronomy (books 4 and 5 of which are translated here) is a textbook of Copernican science, remarkable for the prominence given to physical astronomy and for the extension to the Jovian system of the laws recently discovered to regulate the motions of the Planets. Harmonies of the World (book 5 of which is translated here) expounds an elaborate system of celestial harmonies depending on the varying velocities of the planets.