- Tapa dura: 240 páginas
- Editor: Walker & Co (1 de octubre de 2000)
- Idioma: Inglés
- ISBN-10: 0802713637
- ISBN-13: 978-0802713636
- Valoración media de los clientes: Sé el primero en opinar sobre este producto
- Clasificación en los más vendidos de Amazon: nº698.128 en Libros en idiomas extranjeros (Ver el Top 100 en Libros en idiomas extranjeros)
The Neptune File: A Story of Astronomical Rivalry and the Pioneers of Planet Hunting (Inglés) Tapa dura – 1 oct 2000
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Reseña del editor
Describes the dramatic events surrounding the discovery of Neptune, the eighth planet in the solar system, and profiles the two men, British mathematician John Couch Adams and French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier who predicted where the planet would be based on mathematical calculations rather than on observation.
Biografía del autor
Tom Standage is technology editor at The Economist magazine and the author of four history books, "A History of the World in Six Glasses" (2005), "The Turk" (2002), "The Neptune File" (2000) and "The Victorian Internet" (1998), two of which have been serialized as "Book of the Week" on Radio 4. "The Victorian Internet was made into a Channel 4 documentary, "How The Victorians Wired the World". Tom has previously covered science and technology for a number of newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Wired and Prospect. He holds a degree in engineering and computer science from Oxford University, and is the least musical member of a musical family. He is married and lives in Greenwich, London, with his wife and daughter.
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Man has known about the first six planets since ancient times. They’re bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, and their movements across the sky clearly distinguish them from the stars.
Searching the sky with his advanced (for the time) telescope, amature astronomer William Hershel discovers a seventh planet, Uranus, in 1781. This created a sensation among astronomers, and opened up the possibility of more planets in the sky.
While trying to compute the precise orbit of Uranus, astronomers noted something wasn’t quite right. It was speeding up and slowing down from where it was expected to be. Two astronomers, the brash Frenchman Urbain Le Verrier and the quiet Englishman John Adams begin undertaking the complex calculations to try and predict where the new planet should appear.
With the calculations underway, the race is on to actually find the new planet, an amazing achievement with 19th century technology. The acrimony and infighting resulting from the discovery also makes for a great story.
A Cambridge mathematician calculates the position of an undiscovered planet, now known as Neptune. He submits his predictions to the director of the Cambridge Observatory. The Cambridge director, not wanting to take a chance on looking for a planet based solely on calculations, sends the mathematician to the director of the Greenwich Observatory. The Greenwich director, too busy with his mission, sends the mathematician back to the Cambridge Observatory. The directors spend endless weeks exchanging letters (the 19th century equivalent of e-mail) on why each should or should not look for the planet, seemingly oblivious to the opportunity that has been given to them. Meanwhile, a French mathematician also calculates the position of the planet. Going around the powers-that-be, he asks a contact at the Berlin Observatory, an assistant, to have a look for the planet. The German astronomer and a friend find the planet in a few hours. The English establishment is left with a lot of explaining to do.
How far have we come in the last 150 years? The only lesson is that we never learn our lesson.
In view of this successful mathematical description, Uranus' misbehavior was so bad that it was proving to be a continual embarrassment to astronomers, and the drive to find a solution was strong in the early to mid 19th century. The story of Adams in England, Le Verrier in France, and Galle in Germany has been told many times, and will be familiar to fans of the history of astronomy. Standage's retelling of the story is a good read, but probably adds little to Grosser's 'The Discovery of Neptune' (1962). An interesting facet Standage adds to the picture has to do with the title of his book. The 'file' in question belongs to George Airy (a notoriously fastidious record keeper). It contained correspondence, news clippings, etc., on the issue of the discovery of Neptune. Conspiracy theorists abounded in the years after the discovery, and some made the claim that Airy was in cahoots with Le Verrier in suppressing Adams' work to ensure that the credit would go to the Frenchman. Apparently Airy's file disappeared at some point during the last 20 years or so, renewing the conspiracy theorists' energies. Standage informs us late in his book that the file eventually turned up among the papers of a recently deceased former astronomer of the Greenwich Observatory. Examination of the file proved that there was no collusion.
This incident deserves further mention. Standage does not name the astronomer who had the file, nor the circumstances under which it was 'borrowed.' Nor does he elaborate on what was found there, other than exonerating Airy of the charge of conspiracy to suppress Adams' findings. Just who did have the file, and for how long? My own brief research revealed that an historian of science named Dennis Rawlins has written several articles about this situation, claiming a cover-up on the part of English astronomers, and alleging that the Neptune file contains a copy of Adams' original paper in which his position prediction is off by more than 12 degrees, and that a faction of 'Cambridge' astronomers is conspiring to keep the contents of the file suppressed.
I contacted two historians of science, one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and one at Harvard. Neither knows of any evidence as to the truth of these allegations, and both attest that Rawlins tends to gravitate toward farfetched notions that mainstream science regards with suspicion. In fact, Rawlins doesn't publish his papers in mainstream journals, but in his own self-published journal 'Dio.'
At any rate, Standage's treatment of the issues was disappointingly brief and left me wondering if he was unable to dredge up any additional info himself.
Standage doesn't end the story with the discovery of Neptune and the international fallout over credit that ensued. He goes on to add the modern planet seekers, those who look for - and find - planets around other stars. Their challenge may be technically greater - to discern the minute wobbles of distant stars and infer the existence of planets, but they also have superior tools. Standage draws the parallel between their task, and the way Adams and Le Verrier inferred the existence of Neptune mathematically long before it was seen by astronomers. The comparison is perhaps valid, but the modern search for extrasolar planets certainly carries none of the intrigue of the Neptune story, where the search was carried out with paper and pencil and little more.
Standage's book is a good read, particularly for those unfamiliar with the details of the story. However, I would still recommend Grosser's book as the better account (minus the modern info), but I would even more highly recommend Richard Baum and William Sheehan's excellent 'In Search Of Planet Vulcan: The Ghost In Newton's Clockwork Universe,' a book which retells the Neptune story, possibly better than either Grosser and Standage, and adding the historical context of the planet Vulcan search as well.
I was frustrated upon finishing this book. I wished Standage had done the digging necessary to really tell the story behind the "file." Hopefully more will come to light of the contents of Airy's Neptune File, and will be published in some still unwritten account.