With over 150 alphabetically arranged entries about key scientists, concepts, discoveries, technological innovations, and learned institutions, the Oxford Guide to Physics and Astronomy traces the history of physics and astronomy from the Renaissance to the present. For students, teachers, historians, scientists, and readers of popular science books such as Galileo's Daughter, this guide deciphers the methods and philosophies of physics and astronomy as well as the historical periods from which they emerged. Meant to serve the lay (...) reader and the professional alike, this book can be turned to for the answer to how scientists learned to measure the speed of light, or consulted for neat, careful summaries of topics as complicated as quantum field theory and as vast as the universe. The entries, each written by a noted scholar and edited by J. L. Heilbron, Professor of History and Vice Chancellor, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, reflect the most up-to-date research and discuss the applications of the scientific disciplines to the wider world of religion, law, war, art and literature. No other source on these two branches of science is as informative or as inviting. Thoroughly cross-referenced and accented by dozens of black and white illustrations, the Oxford Guide to Physics and Astronomy is the source to turn to for anyone looking for a quick explanation of alchemy, x-rays and any type of matter or energy in between. (shrink)
The didactics of astronomy is a relatively young field with respect to that of other sciences. Historical issues have most often been part of the teaching of astronomy, although that often does not stem from a specific didactics. The teaching of astronomy is often subsumed under that of physics. One can easily consider that, from an educational standpoint, astronomy requires the same mathematical or physical strategies. This approach may be adequate in many cases but cannot stand (...) as a general principle for the teaching of astronomy. This chapter offers in a first part a brief overview of the status of astronomy education research and of the role of the history and philosophy of science (HPS) in astronomy education. In a second part, it attempts to illustrate possible ways to structure the teaching of astronomy around its historical development so as to pursue a quality education and contextualized learning. (shrink)
In his comprehensive survey of the work of William Herschel, published in the Annuaire du Bureau des Longitudes for 1842, Dominique Arago argued that the life of the great astronomer ‘had the rare privilege of forming an epoch in an extended branch of astronomy’. Arago also noted, however, that Herschel's ideas were often taken as ‘the conceptions of a madman’, even if they were subsequently accepted. This fact, commented Arago, ‘seems to me one that deserves to appear in the (...)history of science’. From the time Herschel published his first paper in the Philosophical transactions in 1781, he was subjected to the suggestion of lunacy. His patron and friend William Watson, told him that after his claims for the extraordinary power of his telescopes, ‘your prognosis that some would think you fit for Bedlam has been verified’. On learning of Herschel's supremely accurate new micrometer, the astronomer Alexander Aubert exclaimed to Herschel that ‘we would go to Bedlam together’: Aubert wrote to Herschel in January 1782 that he should ‘mind not a few jealous barking puppies: a little time will clear up the matter, and if it lays in my power you would not be sent to Bedlam alone, for I incline much to be of the party’. (shrink)
Copernicus’s De revolutionibus and Girolamo Fracastoro’s Homocentrica were both addressed to Pope Paul III . Their dedicatory letters represent a rhetorical exercise in advocating an astronomical reform and an attempt to obtain the papal favour. Following on from studies carried out by Westman and Barker & Goldstein , this paper deals with cultural, intellectual and scientific motives of both texts, and aims at underlining possible relations between them, such as that Copernicus knew of Fracastoro’s Homocentrica, and that at least part (...) of the rhetorical strategy laid out in De revolutionibus’s dedicatory letter can be read as a sophisticated response to Fracastoro’s arguments.Keywords: Copernicus; Fracastoro; Paul III; History of astronomy; Patronage. (shrink)
In the first part of chapter 2 of book II of the Physics Aristotle addresses the issue of the difference between mathematics and physics. In the course of his discussion he says some things about astronomy and the ‘ ‘ more physical branches of mathematics”. In this paper I discuss historical issues concerning the text, translation, and interpretation of the passage, focusing on two cruxes, the first reference to astronomy at 193b25–26 and the reference to the more physical branches at (...) 194a7–8. In section I, I criticize Ross’s interpretation of the passage and point out that his alteration of has no warrant in the Greek manuscripts. In the next three sections I treat three other interpretations, all of which depart from Ross's: in section II that of Simplicius, which I commend; in section III that of Thomas Aquinas, which is importantly influenced by a mistranslation of, and in section IV that of Ibn Rushd, which is based on an Arabic text corresponding to that printed by Ross. In the concluding section of the paper I describe the modern history of the Greek text of our passage and translations of it from the early twelfth century until the appearance of Ross's text in 1936. (shrink)
An interesting question arises in the context of the typically medieval description of the universe presented at the beginning of Maimonides' great law code, the Mishneh Torah. What was Maimonides' own attitude towards that account? Was it meant only as a statement of the best description of nature available at the time matters which make up the bulk of the Mishneh Torah) or was it meant to be a description of the true nature of the universe as it really is, (...) not subject to revision in the light of new paradigms or new models ? Answering this question will lead us to a better understanding of Maimonides' understanding of the nature of science and of what I shall call, for lack of a better term, scientific progress. Maimonides will be shown to hold that while sublunar science can reach perfection and completion such is not possible for superlunar science and that to the extent that the scientific matters in the Mishneh Torah deal with the latter they could not have been presented as the final description of the universe as it truly is. (shrink)
We discuss the extent to which the visibility of the heavens was a necessary condition for the development of science, with particular reference to the measurement of time. Our conclusion is that while astronomy had significant importance, the growth of most areas of science was more heavily influenced by the accuracy of scientific instruments, and hence by current technology.