Hindsight And Popular Astronomy

Hindsight And Popular Astronomy

by Alan B Whiting

Hardcover

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Overview

Named a Top Ten Book of 2011 by Physics World, UK.There are many books that endeavor to bridge the gap between scientists and laymen, yet too many overemphasize the presentation of scientific findings as hard facts and end up alienating readers from the critical thinking processes involved in science.Whiting attempts to break away from the norm in this revolutionary review of popular astronomy books written from 1833 to 1944. He examines these important works by acknowledged authorities in the field to see how they have stood the test of time. Where the luminaries have failed, he looks for clues that the layman reader could have used to raise doubts about what was being said. The aim of this highly accessible book is to develop tools for the non-scientist to evaluate the strange and marvelous results that astronomers report, in place of the highly-developed scientific and mathematical techniques available to the scientists themselves. A must-read for all science and astronomy enthusiasts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9789814307918
Publisher: World Scientific Publishing Company, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/22/2010
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

Table of Contents

Preface vii

1 One Question and Two Ironies 1

2 Positions, Orbits and Calculations 7

2.1 Looking at the sky 8

2.2 Making maps 14

2.3 Kepler's orbits 17

2.4 Distances 21

2.5 Calculations 22

2.5.1 Conservation laws 28

2.6 Stability 29

3 Sir John Herschel, Treatise on Astronomy, 1833 31

3.1 The purpose and the readership 32

3.2 Content 35

3.3 Themes 37

3.4 Hindsight 40

3.4.1 Tentative results and weak support 40

3.4.2 Good insights 41

3.5 Wrong answers 42

3.5.1 Gravitational dynamics 44

3.6 Summary and lessons learned 56

4 Sir George Biddell Airy, Popular Astronomy, 1848 59

4.1 Form and purpose 59

4.1.1 The audience and the object 60

4.1.2 Two themes 61

4.2 Content and results 62

4.3 The Astronomer Royal mistaken 64

4.4 Summary 66

5 Heat, Light and Three Bodies 67

5.1 Waves and particles 67

5.2 Electromagnetism 72

5.3 Thermodynamics 74

5.4 Atoms and molecules 77

5.5 Spectra 81

5.6 On probability and statistics, and keeping track of things 85

5.7 More orbits, plus squares and cubes 87

6 Sir John Herschel, Outlines of Astronomy, Tenth Edition, 1869 95

6.1 The new edition 96

6.1.1 Audience and method 97

6.1.2 Content and themes 98

6.2 Old problems 102

6.3 New results 103

6.3.1 The rings of Saturn 103

6.3.2 Stellar parallax 105

6.3.3 Thermodynamics and spectra 106

6.4 New problems 107

6.4.1 Observations 107

6.5 Summary 116

7 Simon Newcomb, Popular Astronomy, 1878 119

7.1 Audience and method 120

7.2 Themes and content 121

7.2.1 Progress and development 121

7.2.2 Content 125

7.3 Old problems 127

7.3.1 Saturn, craters and clouds 127

7.3.2 Nebulae and stability 128

7.3.3 Visual observations 130

7.4 Progress and insights 131

7.4.1 Spectroscopy and thermodynamics 131

7.4.2 Some insights 132

7.5 New problems 133

7.5.1 The Moon, Algol and some planets 133

7.5.2 The Sun 134

7.5.3 The structure of the universe 136

7.6 Summary 140

8 Sir Robert S. Ball, In the High Heavens, 1893 143

8.1 Form, purpose and readership 143

8.1.1 Themes 145

8.2 Logic and consistency 146

8.3 Cooling planets and dark stars 149

8.4 Prerequisites for the course 152

8.4.1 Probability 152

8.4.2 Orbital mechanics 154

8.5 Summary 156

8.5.1 Lessons 157

9 Simon Newcomb, Astronomy for Everybody, 1902 159

9.1 The new book 159

9.1.1 Motivation and audience 159

9.1.2 Content 161

9.1.3 Summary of the new book 162

9.2 Old, familiar problems 163

9.2.1 Nebulae, the Moon and Algol 163

9.2.2 Cooling and contracting 164

9.3 Insights and progress 165

9.4 Summary 166

10 Things Get Strange: Quanta and Relativity 169

10.1 Relativity 169

10.1.1 Special Relativity 169

10.1.2 General Relativity 171

10.2 Quantum Mechanics 174

10.2.1 Some nuclear physics 174

10.2.2 The Old Quantum Theory 175

10.2.3 The New Quantum Theory 180

10.3 Observations of stars 182

10.4 The Milky Way and the nature of the nebulae 186

11 Sir James Jeans, The Universe Around Us, First Edition, 1929 187

11.1 Audience, aim and content 188

11.1.1 The Jeans picture 189

11.2 Hindsight and Sir James Jeans 191

11.2.1 Jeans and theory 194

11.2.2 Jeans and observations 201

11.2.3 Jeans and logic 204

11.2.4 Jeans and certainty 208

11.2.5 Clues for the layman 210

11.3 The rehabilitation of Sir James Jeans 211

11.4 Summary and lessons 213

12 Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, Stars and Atoms, Third Impression, 1928 215

12.1 Motivation, audience and approach 215

12.2 Content and themes 217

12.3 Hindsight and Sir A. S. Eddington 222

12.3.1 Caution and bafflement 222

12.3.2 Problems 225

12.4 Summary 227

13 Sir James Jeans, The Universe Around Us, Fourth Edition, 1944 231

13.1 The new edition 231

13.2 The picture changes 235

13.2.1 Changes in background physics 235

13.2.2 Abandoning liquid stars 236

13.2.3 Certainty and uncertainty 239

13.3 Remaining problems 241

13.3.1 Carving-out problems 241

13.3.2 The Solar System 242

13.3.3 Jeans and reasoning 243

13.4 Summary of the fourth edition 245

14 In Summary: Reading the Astronomers, 1833-1944 247

14.1 The character of science 247

14.1.1 Exploratory science 248

14.1.2 Dialectic science 250

14.2 Rules for the layman 251

14.3 Applying the rules 253

14.4 Nowadays 254

14.5 The usefulness of wrong answers 256

Acknowledgments 259

Bibliography 261

Index 263

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