The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson
Finished reading on January 31st, 2016
This book is quite small and short and tells of the history of the non-existing planet Vulcan, why some astronomers thought it existed and how it finally disappeared because of Albert Einstein’s General Relativity.
I found the book an easy read, the beginning is rather detailed – you find out more about the astronomer Le Verrier and some of the astronomers who tried to see Vulcan transiting or tried to see it during an eclipse.
You get the idea of why there had to be a planet according to Newtonian gravity, and later you sort of get it also why according to Einstein’s there really is no need for another planet to explain Mercury’s orbit.
It’s great for some light reading.
A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin
Finished reading on January 29th, 2016
I simply loved this book. Not having lived at the time when Apollo missions were actually happening, this book made me feel as if it all were happening now. It’s wonderfully detailed and interesting – you see the Moon through the eyes of the astronauts who went there and also see what the general public thought of man’s greatest adventure.
It was fascinating even though I’ve been reading quite a lot about Apollo missions, but this book was excellent – it’s not at all technical, it’s more reminiscent of travel journals.
You get an idea about the people and find out more about the Moon. It is sad though if you think of it all and realize no-one else has even sent a manned mission to orbit the Moon.
Measuring the Cosmos: How Scientists Discovered the Dimensions of the Universe by David H. Clark and Matthew D. H. Clark
Published in 2004 by Rutgers University Press
Finished reading on January 24th, 2016
If you’re interested in how exactly scientists have come to understand the size and distances in our Universe, then this is a great book to read, as it starts from the beginning and gets to almost the present day in a speedy fashion without delving into the biographies of the various connected scientists for too long.
In the book you can find out who tried to measure stellar parallax and why some were more fortunate than others in doing so, how astronomers figured out that there are other galaxies and how big ours is and you get all the way through the competing big bang and steady theory to the inflation, dark matter and dark energy.
The authors don’t go into too much detail, but if you want to read more, you’ll find a helpful bibliography at the end of the book.
I did enjoy rushing through the book more as a reminder. At some point I did feel as if I’ve read this book before, but I’m sure that it’s just because of the same topic that you can come across in several books about the history of cosmology.
If you’ve never read anything about the history of cosmology, this book would be a great start if you don’t mind that it was published twelve years ago.
Island on Fire by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe
Published in 2014 by Profile Books
Finished reading on January 23rd, 2016
This book’s main topic is the 1783 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki that caused a lot of death and destruction in Iceland and might have been a reason behind the hot foggy summer and cold snowy winter in Europe that year.
In addition to covering Laki, you can also find out more about some of the other volcanoes in Iceland and also some other deadly volcano eruptions across the world and how they influenced the weather patterns etc.
I found the book excellent reading material – interesting details and detours and you’re not stuck in Iceland the whole book. You get quite a good idea of how volcanoes can affect climate and how climate change can cause quite difficult times everywhere.
It was interesting, but it’s also something you might not want to read right before bedtime, as there are rather scary descriptions of deformities caused by ingesting fluorine from water or food polluted by volcanic ash etc.
The book makes you see that we live on a very active planet with lots of fire mountains just waiting to cast their ash cloud over normal everyday life.
“First Magnitude: A Book of the Bright Sky” by James B. Kaler
First published in 2012 by World Scientific Publishing Company
Finished reading on January 22, 2016
I first spent a Sunday at work reading this book and getting through the parts about planets and getting into the brightest stars, but then it took me two weeks to get back to it and finish reading the book in a total of two sittings.
The book covers all the brightest phenomena you might chance across in the night (and sometimes day) sky starting with the obvious planets, stars etc and also giving the reader an idea about what magnitude in brightness in case of stars and planets actually means and when is a star first magnitude and when second and so forth.
In case of the objects mentioned in the book, you get a bit of information about it’s nature, position in the sky when applicable and when it’s best to observe.
It’s quite a straightforward book without detours to obscure topics and sticks to the title. By the end of the book you’ll be left wondering when you’ll get to see a bright comet, nova or supernova yourself.
I found it quite enjoyable read, I wasn’t surprised by it and didn’t get too much new information, but it’s good as a reminder of what you should know about brightest objects if you’re into observing the sky.