Parallax:The Race to Measure the Cosmos

Parallax:The Race to Measure the Cosmos

2002 | 257 Pages | ISBN: 0805071334 | PDF (conv) | 5 MB

What makes a good popular science book? It helps when it deals with a sexy subject. Anything about our health will do. The origin of the universe is also good. Sometimes a mathematical subject attracts attention; e.g., the proof of Fermat's last theorem. Parallax however deals with none of these things. In fact, the book's subject went out of fashion around the middle of the 19th century. Nevertheless, this is a great book, very well written, and the subject may not be fashionable, it definitely is fascinating. It describes how the small changes in the position of a star because of the Earth's rotation around the Sun (i.e., the parallax) can be used to determine the distance of that star. It starts with how the distance to the planets was determined in the 16th century, and then discusses the fact that the same procedure was much more difficult for stars, because of the much larger distances. The book then moves to the developments that were needed in the technology of telescopes to tackle the problem, culminating in the telescopes of Fraunhofer in the beginning of the 19th century. Finally it describes the successes of Bessel, Henderson, and Struve to measure the first distances to stars accurately. If you like to read books on science that are not superficial yet don't get mired in irrelevant details, then Parallax is a book for you.


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