Comets: A Chronological History of Observation, Science, by Donald K. Yeomans

By Donald K. Yeomans

Incomplete dossier: pages 141-358, 474-496 are passed over

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Extra info for Comets: A Chronological History of Observation, Science, Myth, and Folklore

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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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