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Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe [Format Kindle]

Alan Hirshfeld

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Présentation de l'éditeur

NBC News “Top Science and Tech Books of the Year” selection
Scientific American/FSG “Favorite Science Books of the Year” selection
Nature.com “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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  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 8510 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 400 pages
  • Editeur : Bellevue Literary Press (16 juin 2014)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B00H6UZZ98
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Amazon.com: 4.7 étoiles sur 5  19 commentaires
21 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Best history of astronomy I've read! 23 juin 2014
Par Torgny - Publié sur Amazon.com
Alan Hirshfeld's book, Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe, is popular science at its best. It's simultaneously educational, eye-opening, and riveting. Though Hirshfeld mainly covers the period between 1830 and 1920, his book is wide-ranging within that timeframe, covering the history of early photography and spectroscopy, early astronomy and telescopes, the use of photography and spectroscopy in astronomy, and the history of various observatories and astronomers, both professional and non-professional, who discovered or helped lead to the discovery of what we know about our universe.

Hirshfeld's book introduced me to a number of astronomers, inventors and (as the title advertises) eccentrics who deserve to be better known given their contributions to science and art. What perhaps surprised me the most was to learn that professional scientists weren't initially the ones leading the charge to learn more about how our universe works, they were too busy mapping and timing the passage of the stars and planets in order to improve maps and navigation. Most professional astronomers didn't see anything to be gained by taking pictures of stars or by trying to determine what the stars are made of or how far away they are. It was left to the artists, inventors, entrepreneurs, dilettantes, and the aforementioned eccentrics, the ones doing it for love, curiosity, or just the challenge of it, to move astronomy forward almost despite itself. Eventually, however, the techniques and discoveries of these non-professionals caught the interest of the professionals who then made further technological innovations, and founded scientific journals, ultimately rendering astronomy too expensive and time-consuming for non-professional and usurping the field.

While Hirschfeld's writing is clear and compelling, and his topic fascinating, his decision to organize his book by topic, rather than chronologically, is confusing in that it leads to some repetitive writing and makes it difficult to understand how advances in astronomy, and the lives of people discussed, overlapped and related to one-another. Hirschfeld's included timeline doesn't help solve this problem as it omits many of the people and events he describes. And though he provides many helpful photos and graphics, he maddeningly fails to provide any graphics corresponding to some of the most historic photos and instruments he mentions. Readers are thus forced to rely on Hirschfeld's words alone, or their own outside research, to discover how refractor and reflector telescopes differ or what various spectroscopes or historically important photos actually looked like.

But those are minor criticisms. Hirschfeld's writing is very good and he does a marvelous job of restoring non-professionals to their rightful place in the history of astronomy and science, giving them credit not only for what they discovered but for carrying the ball far enough forward that professional astronomers could pick it up and carry it even farther, giving us the knowledge we now have about our universe. These professionals and non-professionals alike couldn't have a better proponent than Hirschfeld. He has done them all a great service. And he has done his readers a great service as well by providing them with such an enjoyable and enlightening book.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Interlaced progress 10 septembre 2014
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Review of Hirshfeld's "Starlight detectives" by Paul F. Ross

As a student in the process of metamorphosing into a scientist, I noticed that science could advance when instrumentation advanced and very often instrumentation advanced when science motivated the effort. Improved instrumentation and improved knowledge, including theory, seemed interlaced. I've seen no survey of the history of all the sciences that tests this hypothesis, but Hirshfeld's Starlight detectives (2014) certainly supports the notion ... repeatedly. Picking up astronomy in the early 1800s, he follows astronomy through the late 1920s. His stories strongly fit the hypothesis of interlaced progress. Refractor and reflector telescope lenses improved. Positioning of telescopes with respect to Earth's

Hirshfeld, Alan Starlight detectives: How astronomers, inventors, and eccentrics discovered the modern universe 2014, Bellevue Literary Press, New York NY, 400 pages

atmosphere - putting telescopes under better weather or higher on mountains - improved. Means for observing and capturing data from the observations improved from astronomers eyeing what they saw and recording it in drawings to astronomers becoming photographers and photographing what the telescope saw - including improving the technology for tracking a moving stellar object through hours, even repeated days, of viewing. Teasing light into its components improved through the use of ever-better spectroscopes and diffraction grids. With these advances in the technologies for capturing data, astronomy's understanding of the "universe" expanded from "the Milky Way is the universe" to Hubble's "there are many island universes (galaxies) and most are moving away from us." Amateur astronomers - they had to be wealthy to buy equipment and have the freedom to allocate time to astronomy - contributed uniquely, some might even say "led," innovation in the 1880 - 1900 time span. In this time period, the very purpose of astronomy changed from mapping the skies to understanding the evolving history of the universe. Even professional astronomy was upended. Hirshfeld tells the story.

Alan Hirshfeld is professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an Associate of the Harvard College Observatory. His several other book titles and the multiple journals for which he has written are listed. I bought Hirshfeld's book having read Pesic's review (2014) in the Wall Street Journal.

Hirshfeld's story thread necessarily transitions from place to place, time to time. As lenses improved, the "best and biggest" producing the most new information was now "here," then "there." I found it interesting to see the contributions made by various private and university observatories (Harvard, De La Rue, Draper, Common, Roberts, Lick, Huggins, Fleming, Cannon, Barnard, Kenwood, Yerkes, Flagstaff, Mount Wilson), some of the contributions being made "in the back room" by "computers" - women employed to make measurements and do calculations using photographs as their data source. The book's index allows one to trace the story of "an observatory" through what, sometimes, are its several phases of creativity and contribution. The mechanisms for moving the telescope (or its lens, or its film plate) as the celestial body being observed moves across the sky are at least noted, if not described in detail, as they improved in their function. As photography matured and film improved, the photographic record became the principal source of data for astronomy. Fraunhofer, analyzing sunlight after it was divided into light of various wavelengths by passing through a prism, reported dark lines (soon named Fraunhofer lines) in the late 1810s. Bunsen and Kirchoff, working together in about 1850, pursued analysis of the wavelengths of light coming from chemical elements being incinerated in the heat from a Bunsen burner. They learned the patterns of wavelengths emitted by various elements and examined sunlight for the elements present in the Sun. Their work led to Swedish astronomer Angstrom's extension of the mapping of spectral lines in sunlight in the late 1860s which, in turn, led to use of prisms and diffraction grids and film to analyze the spectral lines from stars. Spectral lines from hydrogen in sunlight could be recognized for their pattern, but were recognized as having been shifted in wavelength (the "red shift") as the ideas of Doppler with respect to sound, discovered and named the Doppler shift in the early 1840s, were applied to light emitted by stars moving away from Earth (producing the "red shift") as observed by Vogel at the Potsdam Astrophysical Observatory in the early 1870s. Interlaced developments from many contributors? Yes indeed! Daguerre invented light-sensitive film and began photography in France, showing his work publicly by the late 1830s. Whipple and Bond photographed the Moon in 1851 using the daguerreotype process and created a sensation that effectively introduced photography as necessary instrumentation for an astronomical observatory. Eventually Hubble, using the then "biggest and best" (100 inch) reflector lens at Mount Wilson in Pasadena CA, discovered a Cepheid variable in the M31 "nebula." Hubble understood that this Cepheid's dimness - all variable Cepheids were thought to be of the same brightness at their brightest and therefore capable of serving as a "standard candle," observed brightness indicating distance to the Cepheid - indicated that it was much further from earth than the outer limits of the Milky Way based on the then-estimates of the size of the Milky Way. The variable Cepheid in M31 meant that M31 was outside the Milky Way, was a cluster of stars, and was not a glowing body of gas somewhere within the Milky Way. The data about the Cepheid variables in M31 and its meaning about a universe of many galaxies began emerging in 1923. To identify all the threads in his story, Hirshfeld begins in the early 1800s and concludes his story with Hubble's and Humason's contribution of new ways to measure the distance to galaxies in the 1920s.

Having tasted Hirshfeld's slice of the history of astronomy, 1800 to 1930, I immediately wondered if there's a history that covers the whole of human interaction with the stars ... thousands of years. If there is a pointer to such a history in Hirshfeld, I missed seeing it. Reading Hirshfeld's history, one has the impression that all the astronomical research by amateurs and professionals during this period occurred in America and England. There are moments when Hirshfeld does see astronomy being done in other parts of Europe, but they are few, and the reader is left wondering if Hirshfeld's is a "world view" of the development of astronomy in this time period or whether it is very much "American-centric" with a nod to England. The current issue of the journal Science arrived in my US mailbox as I finished reading Hirshfeld. It had a news story about a supernova (exploding star), first seen in January 2014, being reported in several peer-reviewed journals (Clery, 2014) as well as a news story (Girardi, 2014) and a research report (Melis et al, 2014) about "controversies" with respect to the distance to the Pleiades (a star constellation) being "resolved" using new measurements available from Very Long Baseline Radio Interferometry, thus correcting measurements made using the European-launched Hipparcos astrometric satellite. There was also a report in the journal about planet formation (Meng et all, 2014). I was reminded of the advances in astronomical knowledge and instrumentation that have occurred in the last century (1920 to now) about which I had learned nothing by reading Hirshfeld ... wanting the delight of having and reading Hirshfeld's history to continue to "right now." The reader may want to look at Waller and Hodge (2003), published a decade ago. It does not bring the reader to "right now," but it does extend Hirshfeld's story about eighty years.

In the final chapter I came upon the statement in Hirshfeld that "... for each million-parsec increment in distance ... a galaxy's speed ratcheted up a staggering five hundred kilometers per second (eight hundred miles per second)" (p 329). I did a double take. I got my calculator. Five hundred kilometers is roughly 308 miles, not 800 miles. Hirshfeld had made a mistake and his checks, the reviewers' checks, the publisher's checks had failed to catch the mistake. Was this work as carefully put together as I hoped it had been?

Hirshfeld's history has a fine bibliography, index, set of notes citing references, even a glossary of names and a very handy timeline. Historians of astronomy will appreciate Hirshfeld's work. Readers will enjoy the read and, like me, be ready for more information from other sources.

Bellevue, Washington
9 September 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Paul F. Ross All rights reserved.


Clery, Daniel "Supernova breaks the mold: A massive explosion in a nearby galaxy both confirms and confounds astronomers' expectations" 2014, Science, 345, 993

Girardi, Leo "One good cosmic measure: Radio-wave interferometry provides an accurate measurement of cosmic distances" 2014, Science, 345, 1001-1002

Hirshfeld, Alan Starlight detectives: How astronomers, inventors, and eccentrics discovered the modern universe 2014, Bellevue Literary Press, New York NY

Melis, Carl, Reid, Mark J., Mioduszewski, Amy J., Stauffer, John R., and Bower, Geoffrey C. "A VLBI resolution of the Pleiades distance controversy" 2014, Science, 345, 1029-1032

Meng, Huan Y. A., Su, Kate Y. L., Rieke, George H., Stevenson, David J., Plavchan, Peter, Rujopakarn, Wiphu, Lisse, Carey M., Poshyachinda, Saran, and Reichart, Daniel E. "Large impacts around a solar-analog star in the era of terrestrial planet formation" 2014, Science, 345, 1032-1035

Pesic, Peter "Flickers in the firmament" 2014, Wall Street Journal, 26-27 July, p C9.

Waller, William H., and Hodge, Paul W. Galaxies and the cosmic frontier 2003, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 History of Mankinds Search for the Stars 7 novembre 2014
Par J. Groen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
This is a history of mankinds search for the stars here on earth. The book starts in the mid 19th century and continues through the 1930s. It focuses on key individuals, both amateurs and professionals (and the line was unclear on the separation) who moved the astronomy forward to the modern era.

The best part of the book, in my opinion, covers Hubble and his observations that solved the conflict on whether there was one galaxy or many. This happened in 1923 and his presentations afterwards resolved the issue once and for all. Of course, the result led the recognition today that there billions of galaxies in the universe.

In the development of this history, the book covers the importance of photography, spectographs, and, of course, telescopes. The book reviews the development of the huge telescopes of the late 19th century. Some were refractor telescopes and some were reflector.

My only issue with the book is that it doesn't do a very good of covering the difference between these two types of telescopes: reflector and refactor. I had to look it up to get some clarity.

Other than that issue, I consider this book a good read and worthwhile for anyone interested in astronomy.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Terrific History of Astronomy in the 19th and 20th Century 12 novembre 2014
Par Michael Cordova - Publié sur Amazon.com
I just finished reading Starlight Detectives. I got goose bumps reading it, especially as the realization of of the power of the new tools in the 19th century of photography and spectroscopy unfolded. I am a long time interested lay person fascinated with cosmology and astronomy. I so much enjoyed this wonderful book. It puts into perspective where we were as a culture a couple of hundred years ago to where we are now. I am in awe of those that worked so hard at their astronomical endeavors; many of which whom were not even coming close to realizing what they were uncovering. That we now understand the cosmos and our place in it so much better now is incredible. What a wonderful depiction of the researchers and astronomers who gave us our present perspective of our place in the cosmos. I feel very privileged to have a sort of understanding both of the vastness of our universe and the small part of it that is the Earth. My thanks to Alan Hirshfeld for this history of the people, the amateurs, the visionaries, the competing academicians, who gave us the evidence that led to our present understanding. It was an incredible book and very enjoyable to read.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An Outstanding History of the Development of Astrophysics 18 septembre 2014
Par Timothy Hager - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
This is an excellent book. I highly recommend it for all amateur astronomers and students of astronomical history. It is well written, clear and concise. It traces the evolution of astronomy from the simple measurement and refinement of positions to discovering the physical size and actual nature of the universe and the bodies that inhabit it. Kudos to Hirshfeld for a great read.
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