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In this course we will study some of the greatest figures in astronomy and consider their leadership in advancing progress in the field. We will consider their lives and works, especially as represented by original copies of their books and other publications. These great astronomers include: 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus (heliocentric universe); Tycho Brahe (best pre-telescopic observations); 17th century, Galileo (discoveries with his first astronomical telescope, 1610; sunspots, 1613; Dialogo, 1632); Johannes Kepler (laws of planetary motion, 1609, 1619); Johannes Hevelius and Elisabeth Hevelius (atlases of the Moon and of stars, 1647, and 1687); Isaac Newton (laws of universal gravitation and of motion, 1687); 18th century, Edmond Halley (Miscellanea curiosa, eclipse maps, 1715, 1724); John Flamsteed and Margaret Flamsteed (Atlas Coelestis, 1729); and William Herschel and Caroline Herschel (1781, 1798). Also, from more recent times in which original works are often articles rather than books: 20th century, Albert Einstein (special relativity, 1905; general relativity, 1916); Marie Curie (radioactivity); Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (hydrogen dominating stars, 1929), Edwin Hubble (Hubble’s law, 1929); Vera Rubin (dark matter, 1970s); Jocelyn Bell Burnell (pulsar discovery, 1968); and 21st century: Wendy Freedman (Universe’s expansion rate, 2000s). First editions will be available in Williams’s Chapin Library of rare books, and facsimiles or digital copies will be provided for remote learning. We will also consider how such original materials are collected and preserved, and look at examples from the wider world of rarities, such as a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible (c. 1450) and a Shakespeare First Folio (1623, with a discussion of astronomical references in Shakespeare’s plays). We evaluate a trove of books and papers about historic transits of Venus. We discuss matters of fraud and authenticity, especially the case of a purported Sidereus Nuncius, shown to be a modern construction. The course will be taught in collaboration between an astronomer and a rare books librarian, with remote lectures by experts from around the world.
Format: seminar/conference; Meeting on campus in the Chapin Library classroom (Sawyer 452) or remotely; students who are not on campus can visit the original books at a later time/year.
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
yes fifth course option
class participation, two 5-page intermediate papers, and a final 15-page paper; student choice of additional readings from a provided reading list
if overenrolled, preference by written paragraph of explanation of why student wants to take the course
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
Comments on submitted papers will aid in writing skills