Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe

Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe

Alan Hirshfeld

Language: English

Pages: 400

ISBN: 1934137782

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Julia Ward Howe Award Finalist
NBC News “Top Science and Tech Books of the Year” selection
Scientific American/FSG “Favorite Science Books of the Year” selection “Top Reads of the Year” selection
Kirkus Reviews “Best Books of the Year” selection
Discover magazine “Top 5 Summer Read”

“A masterful balance of science, history and rich narrative.” —Discover magazine

“Hirshfeld tells this climactic discovery of the expanding universe with great verve and sweep, as befits a story whose scope, characters and import leave most fiction far behind.” —Wall Street Journal

Starlight Detectives is just the sort of richly veined book I love to read—full of scientific history and discoveries, peopled by real heroes and rogues, and told with absolute authority. Alan Hirshfeld’s wide, deep knowledge of astronomy arises not only from the most careful scholarship, but also from the years he’s spent at the telescope, posing his own questions to the stars.” —DAVA SOBEL, author of A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos and Longitude

In 1929, Edwin Hubble announced the greatest discovery in the history of astronomy since Galileo first turned a telescope to the heavens. The galaxies, previously believed to float serenely in the void, are in fact hurtling apart at an incredible speed: the universe is expanding. This stunning discovery was the culmination of a decades-long arc of scientific and technical advancement. In its shadow lies an untold, yet equally fascinating, backstory whose cast of characters illuminates the gritty, hard-won nature of scientific progress.

The path to a broader mode of cosmic observation was blazed by a cadre of nineteenth-century amateur astronomers and inventors, galvanized by the advent of photography, spectral analysis, and innovative technology to create the entirely new field of astrophysics. From William Bond, who turned his home into a functional observatory, to John and Henry Draper, a father and son team who were trailblazers of astrophotography and spectroscopy, to geniuses of invention such as Léon Foucault, and George Hale, who founded the Mount Wilson Observatory, Hirshfeld reveals the incredible stories—and the ambitious dreamers—behind the birth of modern astronomy.

Alan Hirshfeld, Professor of Physics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an Associate of the Harvard College Observatory, is the author of Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos, The Electric Life of Michael Faraday, and Eureka Man: The Life and Legacy of Archimedes.

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Contrast to the ascension of astrophysics in America. Large-scale scientific philanthropy was relatively rare: Private donations brought a thirty-inch refractor to the Nice Observatory in France in 1886, and the Simeis astro-photographic station in the Crimea to Russia’s state-operated Pulkova Observatory in 1912. As in the United States, government support went to mature fields—astrometry and celestial mechanics—not to astrophysics. But in America, private donors chose overwhelmingly to support.

43 Barker, George, 131 Barnard, Edward Emerson, 239, 347, 349 on comets, 143 Roberts and, 239–44, 242 surveys of, 145–46, 151 at Yerkes Observatory, 269–70, 300 Barrett, Storrs, 271 Bauer, Francis, 44 BD. See Bonner Durchmusterung Becquerel, Edmond, 53, 107 Berkowski, 346 Berlin Academy, 177, 179 Berthoud, Ferdinand, 31 Berzelius, Jöns Jacob, 156 Bessel, Friedrich Wilhelm, 24–26, 95 Beta Aurigae (star), 234 Betelgeuse (star), 170, 200–203, 202, 232 Big Dipper, 233 Biot, Jean.

Homogeneity, clarity, and optical specification. In precisely matched pairs, these component lenses formed the world’s best achromatic telescope objectives. In the first halting steps toward celestial spectroscopy, Fraunhofer equipped a four-inch refractor telescope with a prism and viewed spectra of the Moon, planets, and several bright stars. He found that lunar and planetary spectra largely mimic the Sun’s, suggesting that these bodies shine by reflected sunlight. Spectra of stars, on the.

Presence, in the incandescent atmosphere of the sun, of those substances which in the spectrum of a flame produce bright lines in the same place.” Fraunhofer’s D lines, manifested in emission or absorption, mark the presence of sodium in a laboratory flame, in the Sun, or in a star. In the months that followed, Kirchhoff developed a physical theory to account for the origin of spectral lines. Analogizing to the natural flow of heat from a region of high temperature toward that of low.

And the more distant that realm, the more intrepid the explorer. Chapter 17 A STRANGE CRYPTOGRAPHY [W]hen a molecule of hydrogen vibrates in the Dog-Star, the medium receives the impulses of these vibrations; and after carrying them in its immense bosom for three years, delivers them in due course, regular order, and full tale into the spectroscope of Mr. Huggins, at Tulse Hill. —James Clerk Maxwell, “On Action at a Distance,” discourse at the Royal Institution, London, 1873 IN 1855,.

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