Newton's Clock: Chaos in the Solar System

Front Cover
Macmillan, 1993 - Celestial mechanics. - 317 pages
1 Review
With his critically acclaimed best-sellers The Mathematical Tourism and Islands of Truth, Ivars Peterson took readers to the frontiers of modern mathematics. His new book provides an up-to-date look at one of science's greatest detective stories: the search for order in the workings of the solar system. In the late 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton provided what astronomers had long sought: a seemingly reliable way of calculating planetary orbits and positions. Newton's laws of motion and his coherent, mathematical view of the universe dominated scientific discourse for centuries. At the same time, observers recorded subtle, unexpected movements of the planets and other bodies, suggesting that the solar system is not as placid and predictable as its venerable clock work image suggests. Today, scientists can go beyond the hand calculations, mathematical tables, and massive observational logs that limited the explorations of Newton, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and others. Using supercomputers to simulate the dynamics of the solar system, modern astronomers are learning more about the motions they observe and uncovering some astonishing examples of chaotic behavior in the heavens. Nonetheless, the long-term stability of the solar system remains a perplexing, unsolved issue, with each step toward its resolution exposing additional uncertainties and deeper mysteries. To show how our view of the solar system has changed from clocklike precision to chaos and complexity, Newton's Clock describes the development of celestial mechanics through the ages - from the star charts of ancient navigators to the seminal discoveries of the 17th century from the crucial work of Poincare to thestartling, sometimes controversial findings and theories made possible by modern mathematics and computer simulations. The result makes for entertaining and provocative reading, equal parts science, history and intellectual adventure.

What people are saying - Write a review

Newton's clock: chaos in the solar system

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

This is a history of human efforts to understand the mechanics of the solar system, reaching from classical Greece to the present. By the time of Isaac Newton, there was reason to hope that the ... Read full review


1 Chaos in the Clockwork
2 Time Pieces
3 Wanderers of the Sky
4 Seas of Thought
5 Clockwork Planets
6 Inconstant Moon
7 Prophet of Chaos
8 Band Gaps
9 Hyperion Tumbles
10 Digital Orrery
11 Celestial Disharmonies
12 Machinery of Wonder

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1993)

IVARS PETERSON is an award-winning mathematics writer known for his popular books The Jungles of Randomness, The Mathematical Tourist, and Islands of Truth. He also writes about mathematics for Science News and Muse magazines.

NANCY HENDERSON is a freelance writer and editor whose articles have appeared in New Scientist, Science and Children, U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Post, and many other publications.

Bibliographic information