Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos

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Henry Holt and Company, May 1, 2001 - Science - 314 pages
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In the dramatic tradition of the best-selling Longitude, Parallax charts the historical path of observational astronomy’s most daunting challenge: measuring the distance to a star.

The greatest scientific minds applied themselves in vain to the problem across the millennia, beginning with the ancient Greeks. Not until the nineteenth century would three astronomers, armed with the best telescopes of the age, race to conquer this astronomical Everest—their contest ending in a virtual dead heat.

Against a sweeping backdrop filled with kidnappings, dramatic rescue, swordplay, madness, and bitter rivalry, Alan Hirshfeld brings to life the heroes of this remarkable story. Meet the destitute boy plucked from a collapsed building who becomes the greatest telescope maker the world has ever seen; the hot-tempered Dane whose nose is lopped off in a duel over mathematics; the merchant’s apprentice forced to choose between the lure of money and his passion for astronomy; and the musician who astounds the world by discovering a new planet from his own backyard.

Generously illustrated with diagrams, period engravings, and paintings, Parallax is an unforgettable tale that illuminates the distinctly human side of science.

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User Review  - quantum_flapdoodle - LibraryThing

A compelling and entertaining history of the search to measure the parallax - the displacement of light around different stars. Many famous players appear and disappear in the race to measure the ... Read full review

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About the author (2001)

Alan W. Hirshfeld, astronomer at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an Associate of the Harvard College Observatory, received his undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Princeton and his Ph.D. in astronomy from Yale. He is co-author of Sky Catalogue 2000.0, a two-volume astronomical reference book, and a past winner of a Griffith Observatory/Hughes Aircraft Co. national science writing award. He lives outside Boston.

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