jrasc june 1998 final - The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

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jrasc june 1998 final - The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

In spite of the above comments, I highly recommend thebook to educated amateurs and scientists who want to knowmore about how spectra are used in astronomy. It also wouldmake interesting casual reading for professional astronomers,who might enjoy interesting summaries of the “personalities”of their favourite stars.I like very much the final two sentences of the book; theysummarize well the author’s poetic sensitivity. “Before leaving,look again across the HR diagram presented here, and ponderonce more this remarkable array of stars. And, tonight, if it isclear, go out to examine the real thing: all the classes arrayedfor you, splashed wondrously across the darkened sky.” Thisinformative book is an excellent read, bridging the gap betweenpurely popular-level entertainment and dense professionaltexts.Robert F. GarrisonRobert F. Garrison is the Society’s Second Vice-President.Galileo: Decisive Innovator, byMichael Sharratt, 274 pages, 15 cm 23 cm, Cambridge University Press,1996. Price $72.45 hardback, $27.45paperback. ISBN 0-521-56671-1As every geologist knows, the steepsidedrocky plugs that dot the Americansouthwest and form the backdrop tomany a cowboy epic are actually theremains of ancient volcanoes, chiseledby wind down to their bare, unyieldingcores. In similar fashion time erodes our collective memory ofthe past, forming a vacant expanse where big names stand inisolation, progressively stripped of context.As names go, they don’t get much bigger than Galileo. Hisfigure looms large in science history not only because of hisseminal discoveries in astronomy and physics, but for defendingCopernicanism — and for failing so famously to escape theconsequences. Galileo’s trial before the Inquisition in 1633,during which he was required to publicly affirm belief in astationary Earth, is the stuff of high drama. Even a cursorystroll through the ages cannot avoid making reference to thatgrim episode.Unfortunately, popular accounts of Galileo’s life are oftenoversimplified to the point of inaccuracy, depicting Galileo asa lone champion of empirical truth against a dark tide of religioustyranny and superstition. It’s an image that plays well in thetelevision age, but it is a misrepresentation. Galileo, who mayhave perceived the mathematical architecture of nature betterthan anyone since Archimedes, was equally aware of the socialframework in which he lived and worked — and was ambitiousfor success on its terms. That his efforts instead earned himcondemnation and bitter poverty in his later years is an outcomeof the complicated personal and political culture that encircledhim. While the principal conflict of Galileo’s career certainlyinvolved clashing interpretations of nature and Holy Scripture,on another level it was all about protocol.In Galileo: Decisive Innovator, Michael Sharratt offers aneffective and manageable remedy to the standard schoolbookportrayal of Galileo. Effective, because it outlines Galileo’scontributions with an emphasis on ideas rather than anecdotes.Manageable, because it is a succinct account that restricts itselfto the salient features of Galileo’s arguments and the key eventsand relationships that shaped his life.Through the first four chapters, Sharratt chronicles Galileo’sprogress from a young, somewhat disaffected academic to ateacher and scientist of remarkably original insight. Born andeducated at Pisa, Galileo first found “a proper home for hisability” as a professor of mathematics at Padua. Living therein reduced circumstances, in a household crowded with a youngfamily and a steady stream of student boarders, his scientificcreativity flourished. The projects and problems that concernedhim, well documented here by Sharratt, reveal a resonance withthe commercial and cultural hum of nearby Venice; for Galileothe city was both a catalyst for new ideas and an open doorwayto the whole of renaissance Europe. In the same period heacquired some of the closest and most important friends in hislife, including Giovanfrancesco Sagredo, an enlightened aristocratwho would secure Galileo a raise in salary, as well as studentturned-collaboratorBenedetto Castelli. It is through the eyesof men such as these, Sharratt reminds us, that we can seeGalileo most clearly: brilliant, proud, anxious, and a borninnovator.Sharratt duly treats the arrival of the telescope, a Dutchinvention, as the transformational event in Galileo’s life. Quicklyimproving on its design, Galileo was among the first to pointthe telescope skyward — and at age 46 he was equally ready toapply a little showmanship in support of a promotion. Astronomywould never be the same. Galileo’s numerous discoveries withthe telescope, documented in his booklet “The Starry Messenger”propelled him to celebrity status, bringing him into contactwith Clavius and Kepler, among others, and ultimately securinghim a prestigious new post as mathematician to the GrandDuke of Tuscany. There were, however, other outcomes toGalileo’s astronomical revolution, thanks especially to hisobservations of the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter.No longer just a “soft” supporter of the Copernican system, thetelescope turned Galileo into its most conspicuous advocate,setting him on a collision course with the Church.In the latter chapters of the book, Sharratt guides thereader step-by-step through Galileo’s most influential works,including his great Copernican treatise the “Dialogue Concerningthe Two Chief World Systems” and “Discourses ConcerningTwo New Sciences,” which documents his investigations intomaterials and kinematics. Between the Dialogue and theDiscourses comes the trial, an affair that shattered Galileo’s lifeand kept him under house arrest through his old age. Sharratt,June/juin 1998 JRASC165

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