The Transits of Venus

Front Cover
Prometheus Books, 2010 - Science - 407 pages
With a Full Preview of the June 8th, 2004, and June 5th, 2012 Transits of Venus!I could not put the book down! With the rare passages of Venus across the sun''s face as their theme, Sheehan and Westfall transport the reader through centuries of exciting historical drama . . . . The timely volume provides an enthralling trip through the history of astronomy. . . . - Clark R. Chapman, Institute Scientist, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, ColoradoA masterful work -- full of mystery, intrigue, passion and danger. Sheehan and Westfall take us on a wild and enchanting romp through time, as imminent scientists, disillusioned egoists, impassioned mathematicians, and preeminent explorers, chase the shadow of Venus around the globe on a grail-like quest for the ''perfect number.'' -- Steve O''Meara, Contributing Editor, Sky & TelescopeSheehan and Westfall have produced a page-turning account of the circumstances and history of one of Nature''s rarest phenomena. Passion, obsession, frustration, adventure, rivalry and disaster, above all the triumph of intellect to fathom the depths of space, are all exemplified in this fascinating tale of scientific endeavour. - Richard Baum, Director emeritus, Mercury and Venus Section of the British Astronomical AssociationSheehan and Westfall have produced an exciting, colorful and definitive account of the history of an extremely rare astronomical phenomenon. Using the detailed instructions provided, the book will inspire readers to view Venus as it transits the sun for the first time since 1882. - Steven J. Dick, NASA Chief HistorianWhat a heroic human quest to catch a glimpse of Venus in silhouette in front of the sun! The scientific payoff was nothing less than the confirmation of Copernican theory. Incredibly, transits of Venus portend the discovery of dozens of earth-like planets as they transit their host suns, causing them to wink in the night sky. - Geoff Marcy, Discoverer of Extrasolar Planets, University of California, BerkeleyIn a story that is enriched with historical and political context, Sheehan and Westfall capture the human spirit that drove a scientific collaboration spanning five centuries. This continuum of humanity painted over the petty egos of individual scientists, the setbacks of war, bad weather and human mortality to finally take measure of the rare transits of Venus and thereby reveal the size of Venus and the Earth-Sun distance. Just in time for the next silhouetting of Venus in June 2004, this book shows us why the tiny transit of Venus is a big deal! - Debra Fischer, Professor of Astronomy, San Francisco State UniversityIn this unique and fascinating history of science, acclaimed popular science writer William Sheehan-who was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Science Writing-and award-winning geographer John Westfall take us back through the centuries to chronicle the intrepid explorations of scientists and adventurers who studied the transits of Venus in the quest for scientific understanding.In exquisite prose, the authors begin their true tale with the first telescopically observable transit in 1639, when Copernicus''s vision of the solar system was just gaining acceptance. This Earth-shattering observation was of monumental importance, because it helped confirm that the planets, including Earth, revolved around the Sun, and not the reverse as had heretofore been believed.Sheehan and Westfall take us on a journey through time vividly evoking the excitement and adventures of explorers and scientists who braved the elements, wars, and disease to follow the transits of the past. Some succumbed to an early grave. Others were victorious in capturing those precious, fleeting moments when Venus cast its shadow on the Sun. From the courageous voyage of Captain James Cook through later breath-taking adventures to the upcoming 2004 and 2012 transits, this uniquely invaluable tome will provide a history and a guide for the future on the unparalleled beauty and meaning of expe
 

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When I was growing up, I wanted to be a “naturalist”, which I defined as somebody who went to faraway places and did neat stuff that had something to do with science.. I devoured the writings of Roy ... Read full review

Contents

PREFACE
13
PLANET WATCHERS
31
3
41
4
49
5
75
A CELESTIAL MONARCHY
93
THIS FAMED PHENOMENON
125
COOKS TOUR
161
FROM ENLIGHTENMENT TO PRECISION
223
UPON THE FLAMECASED SUN
253
EPILOGUE
327
APPENDICES
333
Local Circumstances for the Transit of Venus
339
NOTES
355
BIBLIOGRAPHY
377
INDEX
393

PURSUING A PLANET
185
A NOBLE TRIUMPHSURPASSED
201

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About the author (2010)

William Sheehan (Willmar, MN) is the author of the widely acclaimed The Planet Mars and Worlds in the Sky, and coauthor (with Stephen James O'Meara) of Mars: The Lure of the Red Planet and (with Richard Baum) of In Search of Planet Vulcan. He is a frequent contributor to Astronomy and formerly a contributing editor to Sky & Telescope.

John Westfall (Antioch, CA) is professor of geography at San Francisco State University, the recipient of the Peggy Haas Service Award from the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, and the author of the Atlas of the Lunar Terminator.

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