Encyclopedia Of Astronomy And Astrophysics

Author: Paul Murdin

Published in: Nature Publishing

ISBN: 978-1561-59268-5

File Type: pdf

File Size:  143 MB

Language: English


Recorded history spans about 5,500 years. The recorded history of astronomy starts at the beginning of that period. People have been sky watchers for a very, very long time. And yet astronomy is also among the most modern of sciences. Although we possess the collected celestial observations of some 50 centuries, almost all that we know about the universe we have learned in the century just ended, and most of that knowledge has been gathered since the development of radio astronomy in the 1950s. In fact, the lifetime of any reader of this book, no matter how young, is filled with astronomical discoveries that merit being called milestones. Think it was a pretty big deal when Copernicus, in the early sixteenth century, proposed that the sun, not the earth, was at the heart of the solar system? Well, did you know that a Greek astronomer actually proposed the same idea nearly 2,000 years earlier? His pitch just wasn’t as good.

Astronomy is an ancient science on the cutting edge. Great discoveries were made centuries ago. Great discoveries are being made today. And great leaps forward in astronomical knowledge have often followed leaps forward in technology: the invention of the telescope, the invention of the computer, the development of fast, cheap computers. So much is being learned every day that we’ve been asked to bring out a revised edition of this book, the first edition of which came out only two years ago. And even more, recent discoveries will be on the table by the time you read this new edition.
Yet you don’t have to be a government or university scientist with your eager fingers on millions of dollars’ worth of equipment to make those discoveries. For if astronomy is both ancient and advanced, it is also universally accessible: up for grabs. The sky belongs to anyone with eyes, a mind, imagination, a spark of curiosity, and the capacity for wonder. If you’ve also got a few dollars to spend, a good pair of binoculars or a telescope makes more of the sky available to you. (Even if you don’t want to spend the money, chances are your local astronomy club will let you use members equipment if you come and join them for a cold night under the stars.) And if you have a PC and Internet connection available, you—yes, you—have access to much of the information that those millions of dollars in government equipment produce: images from the world’s great telescopes and from a wealth of satellite probes, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Mars Global Surveyor. This information is all free for the downloading. (See Appendix E, “Sources for Astronomers” for some starting points in your online searches.) We are not alone. No science is more inclusive than astronomy.
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