Unravelling Starlight

Unravelling Starlight : William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy

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Challenging traditional accounts of the origins of astrophysics, this book presents the first scholarly biography of nineteenth-century English amateur astronomer William Huggins (1824-1910). A pioneer in adapting the spectroscope to new astronomical purposes, William Huggins rose to scientific prominence in London and transformed professional astronomy to become a principal founder of the new science of astrophysics. The author re-examines his life and career, exploring unpublished notebooks, correspondence and research projects to expose the boldness of this scientific entrepreneur. While Sir William Huggins is the main focus of the book, the involvement of Lady Margaret Lindsay Huggins (1848-1915) in her husband's research is examined, where it may have been previously overlooked or obscured. Written in an engaging style, this book has broad appeal and will be valuable to scientists, students and anyone interested in the history of astronomy.show more

Product details

  • Electronic book text
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 45 b/w illus.
  • 1139039318
  • 9781139039314

Review quote

'Book of the month; 5/5 stars: beautifully written and meticulously researched and referenced. In every way a splendid work; no scientific library, amateur or professional, should be without it.' Patrick Moore, Sky at Night 'The accepted narrative, written by William himself, is very readable, a considered and finely crafted account, as Becker points out; overall, it is far too good to be true ... [This] book represents a considerable achievement in academic detective work, which took the author some twenty years to complete ... a powerful argument against taking great scientists at their own estimation - history, properly unravelled as it is here, will be the judge.' Astronomy and Geophysics 'I loved this book. I recommend it unequivocally. Read it - you will learn a lot.' The Observatory 'Becker makes excellent use of archives around the world; indeed, it is the use of this unpublished material that makes her study so valuable ... it is something much more, a nuanced biography that illuminates broader themes in science. For this reason, it will be of interest not only to historians of astronomy and astrophysics, but also to historians and philosophers of science in general.' Steven J. Dick, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 'Provides a remarkably fresh picture of the juncture between astronomy and physics in the early years of the 'new astronomy' of astrophysics ... offers a vision of the origins of astrophysics that is both vivid and deep.' Peter Susalla, Annals of Science 'Becker has studied William and Margaret Huggins for decades, and the culmination of her detailed archival work is Unravelling Starlight, an invaluable analysis of the roles of these pioneers in astrophysics ... Becker's double biography ... reveals new insights regarding the under-appreciated role of Margaret Huggins.' Jay M. Pasachoff, HAD News: The Newsletter of the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society 'Unravelling Starlight is a science history book that delves deeply into the intricacies of unfolding theories and methods, interpersonal and institutional rivalries, and - at base - the human character. Becker is the historical scholar as detective, and presents this epic tale of scientific achievement not only to entertain but to educate.' Science and Education '[Becker's] close study of Huggins's careful work to detect the motion of stars using the spectroscope is worthy of the best studies of the genre... But Huggins's greatest erasure from history, according to Becker, was his wife, Margaret Lindsay Huggins. By tracking the woman's footprint in the notebooks, published papers and correspondence, Becker draws one of the fullest portraits of the scientist's wife at work that has ever been produced and illuminates the opportunities for a Victorian woman to contribute to science and the limitations imposed on her by society.' David Aubin, Journal for the History of Astronomy 'Becker's story of the Hugginses' lives in astrophysics is told in a close-up and intimate manner. If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be an amateur astronomer in the nineteenth century ... then read this book. Likewise, if you ever wondered about the day-to-day roles of the many unremembered women who [invested] in the careers of their husbands, then you'll also find much of interest here.' Jessica Ratcliff, Isis, Journal of the History of Science Societyshow more

Table of contents

1. Introduction; 2. '... the astronomer ... must come to the chemist'; 3. The young observer; 4. 'A sudden impulse ...'; 5. The riddle of the nebulae; 6. Moving in the inner circle; 7. Stellar motion along the line of sight; 8. A new telescope; 9. Solar observatories; 10. An able assistant; 11. Photographing the solar corona; 12. A scientific lady; 13. Foes and allies; 14. The new astronomy; 15. 'One true mistress'; 16. Conclusion; Appendix; Index.show more