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The Harvard College Observatory
The First Four Directorships
Bessie Zaban Jones and Lyle Gifford Boyd
Harvard University Press, 1971

Since its founding in 1839, the Harvard College Observatory has pioneered in the development of modern astronomy. Its first directors early recognized the potential of spectroscopy in revealing the constitution of the stars, and of photography in determining the positions and motions of celestial objects; the library of photographic plates made under their direction provides an invaluable history of the stellar universe for the period. The Observatory also pioneered in using the talents of women, several of whom became noted astronomers, and their monumental classification of stars from spectral records constitutes a fundamental contribution to astronomical knowledge.

The authors vividly portray the genesis, growth, and achievements of a major scientific institution and its relations with other observatories. Through the use of photographs and correspondence they also portray the men and women who played essential roles in the development of astronomy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


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Hazards Due to Comets and Asteroids
Edited by T. Gehrels
University of Arizona Press, 1995
In 1993, the U.S. Department of Defense declassified information dealing with frequent explosions in the upper atmosphere caused by meteoric impact. It is estimated that impacts have occurred of a magnitude equivalent to the atomic bomb detonated at Hiroshima. Not all such space voyagers meet their end in the atmosphere, however; huge craters attest to the bombardment of earth over millions of years, and a major impact may have resulted in the extinction of dinosaurs. An impact in Siberia near the beginning of this century proves that such events are not confined to geologic time. Hazards Due to Comets and Asteroids marks a significant step in the attempt to come to grips with the threats posed by such phenomena. It brings together more than one hundred scientists from around the world, who draw on observational and theoretical research to focus on the technical problems related to all aspects of dealing with these hazards: searching for and identifying hazardous comets and asteroids; describing their statistics and characteristics; intercepting and altering the orbits of dangerous objects; and applying existent technologies—rocket boosters, rendezvous and soft-landing techniques, instrumentation—to such missions. The book considers defensive options for diverting or disrupting an approaching body, including solar sails, kinetic-energy impacts, nuclear explosives, robotic mass drivers, and various propulsion systems. A cataclysmic impact posing a threat to life on Earth is a possibility that tomorrow's technology is capable of averting. This book examines in depth the reality of the threat and proposes practical measures that can be initiated now should we ever need to deal with it.

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The Heavens on Earth
Observatories and Astronomy in Nineteenth-Century Science and Culture
David Aubin, Charlotte Bigg, and H. Otto Sibum, eds.
Duke University Press, 2010
The Heavens on Earth explores the place of the observatory in nineteenth-century science and culture. Astronomy was a core pursuit for observatories, but usually not the only one. It belonged to a larger group of “observatory sciences” that also included geodesy, meteorology, geomagnetism, and even parts of physics and statistics. These pursuits coexisted in the nineteenth-century observatory; this collection surveys them as a coherent whole. Broadening the focus beyond the solitary astronomer at his telescope, it illuminates the observatory’s importance to technological, military, political, and colonial undertakings, as well as in advancing and popularizing the mathematical, physical, and cosmological sciences.

The contributors examine “observatory techniques” developed and used not only in connection with observatories but also by instrument makers in their workshops, navy officers on ships, civil engineers in the field, and many others. These techniques included the calibration and coordination of precision instruments for making observations and taking measurements; methods of data acquisition and tabulation; and the production of maps, drawings, and photographs, as well as numerical, textual, and visual representations of the heavens and the earth. They also encompassed the social management of personnel within observatories, the coordination of international scientific collaborations, and interactions with dignitaries and the public. The state observatory occupied a particularly privileged place in the life of the city. With their imposing architecture and ancient traditions, state observatories served representative purposes for their patrons, whether as symbols of a monarch’s enlightened power, a nation’s industrial and scientific excellence, or republican progressive values. Focusing on observatory techniques in settings from Berlin, London, Paris, and Rome to Australia, Russia, Thailand, and the United States, The Heavens on Earth is a major contribution to the history of science.

Contributors: David Aubin, Charlotte Bigg, Guy Boistel, Theresa Levitt, Massimo Mazzotti, Ole Molvig, Simon Schaffer, Martina Schiavon , H. Otto Sibum, Richard Staley, John Tresch, Simon Werrett, Sven Widmalm


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Herschel at the Cape
Diaries and Correspondence of Sir John Herschel, 1834-1838
Edited by David S. Evans, Terence J. Deeming, Betty Hall Evans, and Stephen Goldfarb
University of Texas Press, 1969

Sir John Herschel, one of the founders of Southern Hemisphere astronomy, was a man of extraordinarily wide interests. He made contributions to botany, geology, and ornithology, as well as to astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics. Throughout his scientific career he kept a diary, recording his public and private life. The diaries from 1834 to 1838, years he spent making astronomical observations at the Cape of Good Hope, are reproduced in this book and prove to be much more than an ordinary scientist’s logbook. They present personal and social history, literary commentaries, the results of close observations of nature and numerous scientific experiments, the excitement of travel, political intrigues, gossip, and philosophical reflections—all interpreted through an alert and versatile mind. In the present transcription, the material has been enriched with selected correspondence of Sir John and his wife Lady Herschel (née Margaret Brodie Stewart).

Sir John devoted his working time at the Cape primarily to a systematic observation of the southern sky, complementing his earlier “sweeping” of the northern sky at Slough, England. He later became one of the founders of photography, but at the Cape he used a simple optical device, the camera lucida, in the production of numerous landscape drawings. Many of these, along with reproductions of sketches contained in the diaries and botanical drawings made by Sir John and Lady Herschel, are used to illustrate this book. Sir John was also a leading figure in the foundation of the educational system of the Cape and a supporter of exploratory expeditions into the interior.

As the son of Sir William Herschel, in his day the most famous British astronomer and the discoverer of the planet Uranus, Sir John was already celebrated when he arrived from England. Every individual of note, resident at the Cape or visiting, went to see him. He was supported in his work by his wife, who ran an enormous establishment and bore a huge family, but who nevertheless found time to travel in the country around the western Cape with him and to assist in his observations.

The diaries and letters are supplemented by especially valuable editorial notes that provide much needed and highly interesting information concerning persons and events mentioned and described by Sir John. All the original manuscript material used in this volume is archived at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Sir John’s camera lucida drawings are from the South African Public Library in Cape Town.


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How We See the Sky
A Naked-Eye Tour of Day and Night
Thomas Hockey
University of Chicago Press, 2002

Gazing up at the heavens from our backyards or a nearby field, most of us see an undifferentiated mess of stars—if, that is, we can see anything at all through the glow of light pollution. Today’s casual observer knows far less about the sky than did our ancestors, who depended on the sun and the moon to tell them the time and on the stars to guide them through the seas. Nowadays, we don’t need the sky, which is good, because we’ve made it far less accessible, hiding it behind the skyscrapers and the excessive artificial light of our cities. 

How We See the Sky gives us back our knowledge of the sky, offering a fascinating overview of what can be seen there without the aid of a telescope. Thomas Hockey begins by scanning the horizon, explaining how the visible universe rotates through this horizon as night turns to day and season to season. Subsequent chapters explore the sun’s and moon’s respective motions through the celestial globe, as well as the appearance of solstices, eclipses, and planets, and how these are accounted for in different kinds of calendars. In every chapter, Hockey introduces the common vocabulary of today’s astronomers, uses examples past and present to explain them, and provides conceptual tools to help newcomers understand the topics he discusses.

Packed with illustrations and enlivened by historical anecdotes and literary references, How We See the Sky reacquaints us with the wonders to be found in our own backyards.


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Humble before the Void
A Western Astronomer, his Journey East, and a Remarkable Encounter Between Western Science and Tibetan Buddhism
Chris Impey
Templeton Press, 2014

“This book will provide readers with a greater awareness of the spirit of curiosity and inquiry that lies at the heart of the Buddhist tradition, as well as the fruitfulness of maintaining active communication between the Buddhist and scientific commu­nities.” —from the Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In Humble before the Void, Impey, a noted astronomer, educator, and author gives us a thor­oughly absorbing and engaging account of his journey to Northern India to teach in the first-ever “Science for Monks” leadership program. The pro­gram was initiated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to introduce science into the Tibetan Buddhist monastic tradition.

In a vivid and compelling narrative, Impey intro­duces us to a group of exiled Tibetan monks whose charm, tenacity and unbridled enthusiasm for learning is infectious. Impey marvels not only at their enthusiasm, but at their tireless diligence that allows the monks to painstakingly build intri­cate sand mandalas—that can be swept away in an instant. He observes them as they meticulously count galaxies and notes how their enthusiasm and diligence stands in contrast to many American students who are frequently turned off by sci­ence’s inability to deliver easy, immediate payoffs. Because the Buddhist monks have had a limited science education, Impey must devise creative pedagogy. His new students immediately take to his inspired teaching methods, whether it’s the use of balloons to demonstrate the Hubble expansion or donning an Einstein mask to explain the theory of relativity.

Humble before the Void also recounts Impey’s experiences outside the classroom, from the monks’ eagerness to engage in pick-up basket­ball games and stream episodes of hip American sitcoms to the effects on his relationship with the teenage son who makes the trip with him. Moments of profound serenity and beauty in the Himalayas are contrasted with the sorrow of learning that other monks have set themselves on fire to protest the Chinese oppression in Tibet.

At the end of the three week program, both the monks and Impey have gained a valuable edu­cation. While the monks have a greater under­standing and appreciation of science, Impey has acquired greater self- knowledge and a deeper understanding of the nature of learning and teaching in the East and West. This understand­ing leads to a renewed enthusiasm for making his topic come alive for others.


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