Celestial Shadows: Eclipses, Transits, and Occultations by John Westfall

By John Westfall

Much of what's identified concerning the universe got here from the learn of celestial shadows. This e-book seems intimately on the manner eclipses and different celestial shadows have given us impressive insights into the character of the gadgets in our sun approach and the way they're even aiding us detect and study planets that orbit stars except our sunlight. numerous eclipses, transits, and occultations of the mooons of Jupiter and Saturn, Pluto and its satellite tv for pc Charon, asteroids and stars have helped astronomers to see their dimensions, constructions, and shapes - even the lifestyles of atmospheres and buildings of exoplanets.

Long earlier than Columbus got down to achieve the a ways East via crusing West, the curved shadow of the Earth at the Moon in the course of a lunar eclipse published that we inhabit a around international, a globe. extra lately, comparisons of the sunlit and Earthlit components of the Moon were used to figure out adjustments within the Earth's brightness as a fashion of tracking attainable results in cloud insurance that may be with regards to international warming. Shadows have been utilized by the Greek mathematician Eratosthenes to determine the 1st estimate of the circumference of the Earth, through Galileo to degree the heights of the lunar mountains and through eighteenth century astronomers to figure out the size of the sun procedure itself.

Some of the rarest and such a lot superb shadows of all are these forged onto Earth by way of the beautiful "Evening big name" Venus because it is going among the Earth and the solar. those majestic transits of Venus ensue at so much in a century; after the 2012 transit, there's not an opportunity to watch this phenomenon till 2117, whereas the extra universal sweep of a complete sun eclipse creates the most dramatic and awe-inspiring occasions of nature. even though it will possibly have as soon as been a resource of consternation or dread, sunlight eclipses now lead millions of beginner astronomers and "eclipse-chasers" to trip the globe so as to adventure the dramatic view below "totality." those phenomena are one of the such a lot miraculous on hand to observers and are given their complete due in Westfall and Sheehan's complete study.

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Extra info for Celestial Shadows: Eclipses, Transits, and Occultations

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By the time of Aristotle, The Universe in 3-D 27 Fig. 1 One interpretation of the earth-centered universe of concentric spheres described (vaguely and ambiguously) by Plato and modified by Aristotle in the fourth century BCE. Note the central Earth, with the seven planets in a plane, circling around it (Diagram by J. Westfall) Venus’s sphere had ended up just inside the Sun’s, and Mercury’s was situated between those of Venus and the Moon. The three planets “above” the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, became known as superior planets, while the two “below” the Sun, Venus and Mercury, were known as inferior planets.

Indeed, planetary occultations have been used to create detailed profiles of planets’ atmospheres, accurate measures of their diameters and shapes, and even, in the case of Uranus, to discover a system of delicate rings. Another application of occultations, and one that has grown in importance, involves those of stars by asteroids. Making use of the accurate star positions provided by the Hipparcos satellite, predictions of the paths of asteroid shadows have become precise enough for occultation expeditions to them to have a reasonable chance of success.

To a surprising extent, astronomy has concerned itself with these remarkable events. In contrast to physicists or chemists or geologists who can actually manipulate the objects they study—and “do” to them whatever they like in the lab—astronomers have always faced the disadvantage of having to study their subjects from a distance. True, the Moon and a few other Solar System bodies have now been “touched” with spacecraft, but for most, the next best thing—and the closest we will ever come to doing “experiments” on other celestial objects—is to experience what happens when these objects are “touched” by the shadow-cones that are fortuitously cast by other objects in space.

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