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Science A History 1543 - 2001

John Gribbin

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Earliest suggestion that the Sun was centre of Universe, not the Earth, was Aristarchus, in C3 BC. There were multiple problems with an Earth-centred system, but they were usually just brushed aside, no matter how complex the models ahd to become.

But also big problems with sun-centered, (esp while still trying to have circular orbits). If the Earth was circling the sun and the stars wer all fixed in the firmament, why did you not see the position of the stars change (a phenonemon known as parallax)?

The only explanation for that was that the stars had to be a very long distance away. But then why wd God put all that empty space in there?

The person who most deserves the title of 'first scientist' was galileo Galileo, who not only applied what is essentially the modern scientific method to his work, but fully understood what he was doing and laid down the ground rules for others to follow.

All science builds on the work before. Copernicus began the transformation of astronomy in the Renaissance, then Tycho Brae and Kepler to Galileo and then Isaac Newton.

Kepler used a recorded eclipse of the Moon to establish that Jesus was born in 5 BC.

Galileo has double-barreled name bc of a once-famous ancestor, Galileo Bonaiuti. His family changed their surname to Galilei in his honour. Galileo was given his ancestor's christian name as well, and now the originally famous ancestor is known solely as the ancestor of GG.

Galileo first heard of the Dutch invention of the telescope in 1609. They had a magnification of 3 times and were being sold as toys, but G recognized at once the potential of being able to see armies afar, or to read trading ship flags before they reached harbour. He tried to buy the first one to arrive in Italy, but just missed the seller. Knowing only that the device worked by pairing two lenses, In 24 hours he built his own. Whereas the Dutch telescope used two convex lenses, and projected an image upside down, G used aconcave and a convex lens, and image right way up. And his bigger lenses gave 10x magnification.

By 1909 he made a 20x telescope and observed Jupiter's moons. With the same instrument he saw that the Milky Way was made up of millions of stars.

G. was also the inventer of first good compound microscope, using two double convex lenses (convex on both sides instead of one side being flat).

The symbols + and - were only introduced to mathematics in 1540, by English writer Robert Recorde. He added the = sign in 1557.

Descartes was idly watching a fly buzzing around his small room when he realized that its position cd always be described in terms of 3 numbers, each giving a distance from each of the two walls and ceiling.

The Royal Society was founded in 1662, under a charter from Charles II, although it is privately funded and owes no obligations to the state.

Ole Romer, a Dane, noticed that Jupiter's moons were eclipsed by the planet at slightly varying times depending on where the Earth was in its orbit around the sun. He predicted that an eclipse expected in 1679 would occur 10 minutes later than the tables predicted. He was proved spectacularly correct. He explained it as the time it took light to reach us, and used the data to estimate speed of light at 225,000 km/sec (modern figure is 299,000 km/sec).

Edward Tyson 1680 dissected an unfortunet porpoise which had strayed up the Thames. Astonished to find that it was a mammal, with a structure very similar to land mammals. In 1698 he dissected a chimpanzee and showed incontovertibly that it was anatomically nearly identical to a human, particularly in how similar the brain was,

Popular accounts often cite the 'fact' that Isaac Newton was born the 'same' year, 1642, that Galileo died. But this rests on a cheat, using dates from two different calendar systems. On the Gregorian system (the one we use today) Galileo died Dec 1642 while Newton born Jan 1643.

Newton was knighted in 1705, not for his work in science, nor for his work at the royal mint. Rather it was bc Lord Halifax (Newton's political mentor) wanted to get his party elected. (It didn't work - both Newton and Halifax's party lost the election, and Newton never stood for office again).

In 1710 Edmund Halley got hold of very accurate survey of star positions produced by John Flamsteed at Royal Observatory. Halley compared these to a catalog compiled by Hipparchus in C2 BC. He noticed that while most of the star positions matched closely Flamsteed's more accurate measurements, a few had moved far further than could be explained by measurement errors. They had clearly moved in the 2000 years, and this was the final nail in the coffin of 'crystal spheres'relatively close to our solar system. And because the stars had moved relative to each other, it implied both vast distances in space, and that the stars were in fact suns, just a long way away.

Halley died in 1742, but his most impt observations were not made for another 20 years. He predicted two transits of Venus, in 1761 and 1769, and the data from these gave distance to the sun of 155m kilometers (vs today's figure of 150m km.

Isaac Newton's suggestion that the Earth may have started out as a ball of molten iron (possibly ejected from the Sun after a comet impact). At the end of the C18, the French naturalist Buffon performed a series of experiments to see how long red hot balls of iron took to cool, and came up with a figure for the Earth of 42,964 years. Although this figure is way out, it's impt bc first attempt. to measure scientifically.

As early as 1753 Buffon was discussing that the ape is of the family of man, and that they share a common ancestor. (He thought the ape represented a 'degenarte' form of man). He also pointed to one of strongest arguments against divine creation, although he did not phrase it as such. He pointed out that the pig is not made on some original and perfect plan, but is a compound of other animals. It has many useless parts, such as bones perfectly formed to make toes, but not used as pig has hooves.

Cuvier made the break from bible-based concept of a ladder of Life, with humans at the top. Instead, he set out families of vertebrates, molluscs, articulates and radiates. He realized that you cd generalize from just a few bones or teeth. A meat-eater had to have sharp teeth, but also paws, claws and runner's legs. He used these ideas to study fossils, and practically single-handedly invented science of paleontology.He studied the geology of the Paris basin, identifying which fossils occurred in which strata. This made it clear that there had been a time when there was no life, and that simpler organisms were found below more complex.

Hutton pointed outthat Roman roads built 2000 years earlier were still visible, despite erosion. This meant that the process of eroding mts implied that the Earth was many millions of years old. Charles Lyall built on Hutton's work. He found on Mt Etna sea beds with fossilized oysters raised 700 feet above sea level, and separated by lava flows. Specifically, he reported beds of fossilized oysters twenty feet thick, with a bed of lava above and below.

Lyall notable in that first person to make a living from science writing.

Arthur Holmes was the exoert on radioactive decay in 1920's. He wrote a tetbook on geology that is still used today. He told a friend "To be read widely you need to think of the stupidest student you have, and then think about how you would explain it to him." Holmes came up with the figure of 4500 million years.

The key to understanding Ice Ages is to realize that it's the temperature in summer that matters, not the temperature in winter. What matters is how much snow doesn't melt in summer.

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