The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack

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The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

Posted by Gilbert Stack on September 10, 2022 at 7:30 AM

The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

This is an interesting book, telling a story about astronomy that I had never heard before. It starts with Isaac Newton’s Theory of Gravity and goes on to show how it led to the discovery of Uranus. When Uranus’ orbit didn’t perfectly accord with the expectations Newton’s theory led scientists to predict, that led to the discovery of Neptune. When a similar orbital irregularity was discovered in Mercury, it led to the hypothesis that another planet—called Vulcan—was circling the sun even closer than Mercury was. But no one could find it and eventually Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity explained the irregularity of the orbit without the need for another planet.

 

I didn’t try and follow all the heavy science. I was just interested in the outlines of the hunt. But one thing that did surprise me was how incredibly petty some of these great scientists proved to be. Great men can be very small.

 

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