on 30 December 2010
`This is an extraordinary book', was my impression as I reached the end of chapter two. Far from being a dry history of the past four centuries of telescopic astronomy, I found a novel mixture of sound historical fact admixed with practical lessons in how to build astronomical equipment of the period, and much, much more.
It's really three books rolled into one; a sound historical overview, a practical explanation of the historical observations, and a useful reference with lists of deep sky objects, future planetary phenomena, conjunctions, transits and the like. The familiar historical outline of astronomy with all the usual characters is well told. The arrangement of the chapters follows a logical historical timeline, the main part being the early telescopic observations made by Galileo followed by Newton's development of physics, the observation and development of visual planetary astronomy and then that of extra-solar system observations. But throughout the book, and this is what I particularly liked, there was a lot of unfamiliar information and detail that brings this book bang up to date. For instance the Antikythera mechanism is rarely mentioned in other discussions of classical astronomy, Galileo's unintentional observation of Neptune is strikingly illustrated in juxtaposition with the view given by modern planetarium software, and I had not heard of Hodierna's list of 40 nebulae published in 1654, a century before that of Charles Messier.
What didn't I like ?...well, not much. The blurb on the back cover seemed a little harsh on the Church, but no big deal. In the body of the text there were some interesting omissions, like no reference to Horrock's and Crabtree's first observation of the transit of Venus in 1639. It is mentioned, but they aren't. Neither is Flamsteed's star atlas, Atlas Coelestis, for over a century the mainstay of European astro-cartography, whilst John Bevis does get a mention as producing a detailed and accurate star atlas in the mid-18th C (Bevis's Uranographia Britannica is so rare that only two dozen copies are known to exist). I also wondered about the inclusion of transient lunar phenomena in the discussion of lunar astronomy, very contentious but they may yet stand the test of time and establishment astronomy proved wrong. These are minor quibbles, there may be others, but they don't detract from a well researched and well presented book.
Galileo and 400 Years of Telescopic Astronomy is a refreshingly new way to present observational astronomy in its historical context and would be a great introduction to anyone starting out in practical amateur astronomy. It is definitely a `must have' for the bookshelves of school libraries and astronomical societies.
Kevin J Kilburn FRAS
General Secretary, The Society for the History of Astronomy
on 28 November 2010
Galileo and 400 Years of Telescopic Astronomy
Galileo and 400 Years of Telescopic Astronomy is an amazing insightful discourse in how Astronomy - the oldest science - has expanded the mind of the human race from a small cosmos centred on the Earth to the present day view of unimaginable size and age. All this is done in just 300 pages covering the last 400 years. It celebrates the milestones of success and contains an enormous wealth of information from the Greeks trying to measure the size of the Earth to present day going back to less than a trillionth, trillionth, trillionth of a second after the Big Bang!
Did you know that the earliest astronomical records go back to 30 000 BCE and that the phases of the Moon were recorded as early as 15 000 BCE (Lascaux Caves, France)?
What is the escape velocity from a small asteroid? What is the probability of discovering extraterrestrials in our Galaxy. All these ideas are in this amazing book.
A major theme throughout the book are 14 projects one can do emulating the work of Galileo from recording the height of lunar mountains, transits of the inner planets and sunspots or constructing a simple pinhole camera.
But what of the future? This is the only book I have read which has covered in depth what the enormous plans are for telescopes covering the whole range of the electromagnetic spectrum: The SKA square kilometer array to HESS for ultra high energy gamma rays. It includes observations of neutrinos, cosmic rays and gravitational waves. What an exciting book!
I recommend it.
on 31 January 2011
Mannion and Grego have penned an incisive, comprehensive account of the birth of astronomy in ancient times, through to the latest developments of the present and planned scientific endeavours in the future.
Chronologically written, this is a very interesting and well researched book, with a solid scientific background, charting the earliest observations of the night sky, from ancient cultures onwards, and describes the Erasthomeus measurements, the use of astrolabes, the heliocentric theory and the work, theories and discoveries of Tycho, Aristotle, Ptolemaeus, Hipparchus through to the greats - Copernicus, Galileo and Newton.
With the discovery of the telescope came a great slew of astronomical advances as more of the Universe was discovered, the heliocentric theory overturned, and the visible lunar surface mapped. The planets and their moons could be seen, new planets discovered, and the sheer magnitude of the Universe revealed.
Later as science progressed came the birth of astrophotgraphy, mapping of the infra-red spectrum, radio astronomy and ultra-violet and spectral analysis of starlight, enabling scientists to further understand the ever expanding cosmos and the material nature of it.
Also in the book are projects for the amateur astronomer to undertake, which is a great addition, and also useful reference charts, diagrams and many pictures to compliment the text.
I would very much recommend this book as I think it would appeal to the layman, student, amateur and serious astronomer alike - it is not a dense or dull academic tome, rather a concise and fascinating history of telescopic astronomy and its origins, written with a clear passion for the subject matter. Furthermore, there are useful appendixes at the back with web links to astronomical societies and research websites with which to continue pursuing your interest in astronomy.
on 6 February 2011
The story of astronomy for the past four centuries has been the story of the telescope. Almost every discovery, until the era of spaceprobes, has come from astronomers using ever more powerful 'scopes to probe the heavens, from Galileo's primitive "optick tube" to the Hubble Space Telescope, giant radio dishes and orbiting X-ray satellites.
To cover this entire field needs a brave spirit, and Peter Grego and David Mannion don't shy away from the task!
Their scene-setting chapters are replete with a cast of colourful characters, including Tycho Brahe with his copper nose and smallpox-crippled Kepler. And, as the title promises, the authors paint a very 3D portrait of the fiery redhead Galileo Galilei, including a fascinating account of his scientific achievements outside astronomy.
The later chapters take us through the Solar System and out into the wider Universe, through the eye of the telescope. If the authors had had more space, maybe they would have been able to be more discursive on later developments in non-optical astronomy; none the less, they provide a useful summary for interested student.
The practical projects are framed with a fun and modern slant. To repeat Eratosthenes experiment in measuring the size of the Earth by measuring the Sun's altitude at two different locations, it would help "if you have a far-off friend on the Internet". And they suggest you can improve on Galileo's method of measuring the acceleration of gravity from rolling balls, by videoing the experiment on your mobile phone!
Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest
on 10 March 2011
I bought this book as a fellow student recommended it as a companion to my science studies.
I have never really been interested in astronomy previously, but then again have never really known much about astronomy. My initial reluctance at reading this book was overcome in the first two chapters. What I imagined might be a subject matter I would not like, this book turned out to be quite an addictive read detailing the history and endeavours behind astronomy.
It does not just focus on scientific achievements solely, but the thinking behind the experiments and research and does convey a good picture of the scientists behind astronomical advances over the centuries, with some quite incredible facts detailed.
I do not pretend to understand all the concepts and material put forward in this book, but happily finished it with a much, much better understanding of this particular scientific discipline. While I don't think I will ever be doing any of the astronomy projects featured throughout the book, and will certainly respect the night sky a lot more now.