Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Day We Found The Universe

Astrology began to morph into astronomy in 1543 with the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus' "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres."  It was here, much to the dismay of theologians, the Earth lost it's place as the center of the universe.  The transformation was complete about 60 years later when Galileo Galilei demonstrated his telescope.  It was over two hundred years later that astronomy morphed into cosmology.  That transformation is what The Day We Found the Universe by Marcia Bartusiak is all about.

While the earth may have been demoted by Copernicus further demotions  were to follow.  At the start of the 20th century it was thought that the sun was in the center of our galaxy, The Milky Way and that The Milky Way was the only galaxy.  All that was about to change. 

In early 20th century America there were wealthy men who were willing to donate money for bigger and bigger telescopes.  Astronomers had been looking at spiral nebulae. With the larger and more powerful telescopes it became obvious that those spiral nebulae were actually spiral galaxies just like our own Milky Way.  It was also determined that the earth's sun was not in the center of the Milky Way.    So we had a double demotion - the earth was not in the center of this galaxy and the Milky Way was not even the only galaxy. 

In addition to the more powerful telescopes the cosmologists  had another powerful new tool, color spectrum analyzers.  But in addition to the tools there were the personalities and Bartusiak gives them all some time.  While everyone has heard of Edwin Hubble who has an orbiting space telescope named after him how many have heard of James Keeler who was both a master with spectroscope but helped make the reflecting telescope the tool of choice.  And there was Henrietta Leavitt who's study of  Cepheid variables made it possible for male astronomers to determine the size of the universe.  There are of course many more - some hardly known but most forgotten by history.

Now if you still think the earth is 6,000 years old and that the sun orbits the earth this book is not for you.  But if you are interested in the history of scientific thought this is a wonderful book.  Bartusiak is a wonderful science writer and this book is the result of extensive research to find the important players that have been forgotten.  Even in serious scientific circles there are personality conflicts, egos and competition and Bartusiak makes that a part of the story.

The Day We Found the Universe
by Marcia Bartusiak

No comments:

Post a Comment