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Darkness at Night: A Riddle of the Universe [Hardcover]

E Harrison


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Book Description

1 July 1987
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--the astronomer and physicist Edward 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, Cheseaux, 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.

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About the Author

Edward Harrison, is Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-written story of a mystery most people never think about 7 Jan 2008
By James Huffman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've been something of a minor astronomy geek all of my life, but until a few years ago, I'd never thought of the riddle we usually call "Olbers' paradox": if the universe is infinite, and contains an infinite number of stars, why is the sky dark at night? In other words, why is every spot in the night (or day) sky not filled with stars, if starlight should be coming at us from every point.

I first encountered this when reading a piece by a young-earth astronomer, and have been fascinated by it ever since.

This is a problem that goes back at least to Aristotle. Dr. Olbers (an ophthalmologist who was born in 1758) merely gave a name to this problem. And while if you've never thought about it, the issue may sound trivial, it's not. There are even some who consider this one of the primary concerns for cosmology.

Edward Harrison has done a bang-up job in covering this question. Harrison is a professor of physics and astronomy -- fields not noted for their lucid writing style -- but he writes clearly, interestingly, and well. He combines the ability to write well with a thorough (obviously) knowledge of the subject of which he's writing. It's a good read, a good well-written overview, and accessible to even a relatively ignorant lay reader like myself. It's a fun read, too.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why is the sky dark at night? 12 Jun 2013
By CharlieO3 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Most people know this puzzle as Olber's Paradox. Edward Harrison says this is not a paradox, but a riddle - because it has a correct answer. Harrison takes the reader on an enjoyable historical survey of our changing views of the universe, in order to help one discover the real answer. There are adequate footnotes and appendices to back up the story. This is a fun read. Enjoy it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing riddle 4 April 2002
By ER Harrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A masterly review of the history and science of a celebrated problem in the history of astronomy. Every chance I get I go out at night and look up at the dark sky and try to take in all that it means.+++
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The eternal Riddle 18 Sep 2013
By Alekos 007 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Professor Harrison tackling a simple question: why the sky is dark? takes us into a profound journey in the history of modern cosmology and reveals mysteries of the human thought. A book full of joy.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A genuine nugget in Amazon library 14 Jan 2012
By William J. Meegan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The problem presented in Darkness at Night had me thinking about it for many years. It is truly a great mystery in our universe and it is a mystical problem because the problem according to earthly science should not be. For me it will always be proof that we humans live in a very mystical universe.
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