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Book Reviews

Atlas of Astronomical Discoveries
Author: Govert Schilling

Publisher: Springer

ISBN: 978-1-4419-7810-3

Price: £27.99 (Hb) 234pp

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Govert Schilling has put together a really fine catalogue charting the major astronomical discoveries from 1609 to 2008. Effectively, he covers the age of the telescope and I am pleased that there are some wonderful large colourful images to support it.

The first three chapters cover the first three centuries of the telescope, starting with lunar observations of Thomas Harriot and Galileo and ending with Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell’s diagram of stellar evolution. I particularly like the stories of Fraunhofer’s discovery of the solar spectrum circa 1816 and Schwabe’s declaration in 1843 of the solar cycle, which Schilling concedes received little attention at the time.

The remaining two chapters deal with discoveries made in the twentieth century, with the author skilfully steering his text away from the attractions of devoting any space to the politics of spaceflight. The pick of the stories from the last two chapters are Arthur Eddington’s discovery of the deflection of starlight in 1919 with the assistance of Andrew Crommelin, Hans Bethe’s discovery of the energy source of stars in 1938, Jocelyn Bell’s discovery of pulsars in 1967 and finally the collection of stories from 1977 and 1979 of discoveries of rings around Uranus and Jupiter respectively.

Surprising but pleasing inclusions are the essays relating to discoveries changing our viewpoint of our own Milky Way galaxy. The sequence begins with Edmund Halley’s 1718 discovery of the proper motion of stars including Sirius, followed by Herschel’s work in the 1780s and ending with Vera Rubin and Kent Ford’s 1976 discovery of the angular motion of the Milky Way itself, with the finale alluding to the groundbreaking work subsequently programmed for the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) launched in 1989.

A personal favourite is Alvan Graham Clark’s 1862 discovery of Sirius B as the main star’s binary companion and the mention of Luyten’s definition of Sirius B as a ‘white dwarf.’

The book will appeal to the beginner as well as the serious amateur. It has a light unpretentious prose that will captivate readers of all ages and levels of interest. It will also make an ideal gift that will not collect dust on the coffee table or on a bookshelf.

Ian Welland

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