Rock Legends: The Asteroids and Their Discoverers

Springer
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This book relates the history of asteroid discoveries and christenings, from those of the early pioneering giants of Hersehel and Piazzi to modern-day amateurs. Moving from history and anecdotal information to science, the book's structure is provided by the names of the asteroids, including one named after the author.

Free from a need to conform to scientific naming conventions, the names evidence hero-worship, sycophancy, avarice, vanity, whimsy, erudition and wit, revealing the human side of astronomers, especially where controversy has followed the christening. Murdin draws from extensive historical records to explore the debate over these names. Each age reveals its own biases and preferences in the naming process.

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Originally regarded as “vermin of the skies,” asteroids are minor planets, rocky scraps left over from the formation of the larger planets, or broken fragments of worlds that have collided. Their scientific classification as “minor” planets makes them seem unimportant, but over the past decades asteroids have been acknowledged to be key players in the Solar System. This view of their starring role even alters the trajectories of spacecraft: NASA’s policy for new space missions en route to the outer planets is that they must divert to study passing asteroids whenever possible. This book provides for readers a complete tour of the fascinating world of asteroids.

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About the author

Paul Murdin is a distinguished internationally known astronomer with a track record of well-written books and eloquent lectures about astronomy. He has been honored with an OBE in 1988, the Award of the Royal Astronomical Society for Services to [professional] Astronomy in 2011, the Eric Zucker Award of the Federation of Astronomical Societies for outreach to amateur astronomers, in 2012, and the name of asteroid 128562 Murdin.

Educated at the universities of Oxford and Rochester, NY, Paul Murdin has worked as an astronomer in the USA, Australia, England, Scotland and in Spain, where he led the operation of the Anglo-Dutch Isaac Newton Group of telescopes in the Canary Islands. He has been a research scientist (studying supernovae, neutron stars and black holes – in 1972 Paul discovered the nature of the first black hole known in our Galaxy, Cygnus X-1) and a science administrator for the UK Government and the Royal Astronomical Society. He works at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, England, and is Visiting Professor at John Moores University, Liverpool. He has a secondary career as a broadcaster and commentator for the BBC and CNN, as well as a lecturer and writer on astronomy, including repeat appearances on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time and at a number of literary and science festivals, like those at Hay-on-Wye and Edinburgh, and on the QE2. His most recent books include
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Additional Information

Publisher
Springer
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Published on
Jul 13, 2016
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Pages
207
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ISBN
9783319318363
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Language
English
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Genres
Nature / Sky Observation
Science / Astronomy
Science / Earth Sciences / Geology
Science / Physics / Astrophysics
Technology & Engineering / Aeronautics & Astronautics
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The Paris Meridian is the name of the line running north-south through the astronomical observatory in Paris. One of the original intentions behind the founding of the Paris Observatory was to determine and measure this line. The French government financed the Paris Academy of Sciences to do so in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. It employed both astronomers – people who study and measure the stars – and geodesists – people who study and measure the Earth. This book is about what they did and why.

This is the first English language presentation of this historical material. It is attractively written and it features the story of the community of scientists who created the Paris Meridian. They knew each other well – some were members of the same families, in one case of four generations. Like scientists everywhere they collaborated and formed alliances; they also split into warring factions and squabbled. They travelled to foreign countries, somehow transcending the national and political disputes, as scientists do now, their eyes fixed on ideas of accuracy, truth and objective, all enduring values – yet when the reception given to their own work was concerned some became blind to high ideals and descended into petty politics.

To establish the Paris Meridian, the scientists endured hardship, survived danger, and gloried in amazing adventures during a time of turmoil in Europe consisting of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic War between France and Spain. Some were accused of witchcraft. Some of their associates lost their heads on the guillotine. Some died of disease. Some won honor and fame. One became the Head of State in France. Some found dangerous love in foreign countries. One scientist was killed in self defence when attacked by a jealous lover, another was himself killed by a jealous lover, a third brought back a woman to France and then jilted her, whereupon she joined a convent...

The scientists worked on practical problems of interest to the government and to the people. They also worked on one of the most important intellectual problems of the time, a problem of great interest to their fellow scientists all over the world- the theory of universal gravitation. They succeeded in their intellectual work while affecting politics and the affairs of state; their endeavours have left marks on the landscape, in art, and in literature still visible today.

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