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Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens
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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 2012
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Description
A “thrilling adventure story" (San Francisco Chronicle) that brings to life the astronomers who in the 1700s embarked upon a quest to calculate the size of the solar system, and paints a vivid portrait of the collaborations, rivalries, and volatile international politics that hindered them at every turn. • From the author of Magnificent Rebels and New York Times bestseller The Invention of Nature.

On June 6, 1761, the world paused to observe a momentous occasion: the first transit of Venus between the Earth and the Sun in more than a century. Through that observation, astronomers could calculate the size of the solar system—but only if they could compile data from many different points of the globe, all recorded during the short period of the transit. Overcoming incredible odds and political strife, astronomers from Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, and the American colonies set up observatories in the remotest corners of the world, only to be thwarted by unpredictable weather and warring armies. Fortunately, transits of Venus occur in pairs; eight years later, they would have another opportunity to succeed.
Thanks to these scientists, neither our conception of the universe nor the nature of scientific research would ever be the same.
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Format:
Adobe EPUB eBook, Kindle Book, OverDrive Read
Street Date:
05/01/2012
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780307958617
ASIN:
B0067TGUQQ
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APA Citation (style guide)

Andrea Wulf. (2012). Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Andrea Wulf. 2012. Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Andrea Wulf, Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Andrea Wulf. Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2022. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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      • role: Author
      • fileAs: Wulf, Andrea
      • bioText: ANDREA WULF was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She lives in London, where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. She is the author of The Brother Gardeners, long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2008 and winner of the American Horticultural Society 2010 Book Award, and of Founding Gardeners; she is also the coauthor (with Emma Gieben-Gamal) of This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and 300 Years of English History. She has written for The Sunday Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times, and she reviews for several newspapers, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Times Literary Supplement.
      • name: Andrea Wulf
imprint
Vintage
publishDate
2012-05-01T00:00:00-04:00
isOwnedByCollections
True
title
Chasing Venus
fullDescription
A “thrilling adventure story" (San Francisco Chronicle) that brings to life the astronomers who in the 1700s embarked upon a quest to calculate the size of the solar system, and paints a vivid portrait of the collaborations, rivalries, and volatile international politics that hindered them at every turn. • From the author of Magnificent Rebels and New York Times bestseller The Invention of Nature.

On June 6, 1761, the world paused to observe a momentous occasion: the first transit of Venus between the Earth and the Sun in more than a century. Through that observation, astronomers could calculate the size of the solar system—but only if they could compile data from many different points of the globe, all recorded during the short period of the transit. Overcoming incredible odds and political strife, astronomers from Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, and the American colonies set up observatories in the remotest corners of the world, only to be thwarted by unpredictable weather and warring armies. Fortunately, transits of Venus occur in pairs; eight years later, they would have another opportunity to succeed.
Thanks to these scientists, neither our conception of the universe nor the nature of scientific research would ever be the same.
reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Owen Gingerich, Nature
      • content: "Excellent. . . . Chasing Venus is beautifully paced, alternating between expeditions, with lush descriptions of the often arduous journeys involved."
      • premium: False
      • source: Ian Welland, Astronomy Now
      • content: "Outstanding. . . . It's the book of the year so far--do not miss it!"
      • premium: False
      • source: Alexandra Witze, Dallas Morning News
      • content: "Andrea Wulf has now chronicled the 18th-century transit expeditions in a narrative light on astronomical detail but rich in personalities and adventures. The race was the 1760s version of reality TV -- a cross between Amazing Race and Survivor. People waited to see which astronomers would make it and which wouldn't, and to learn whether all the time and money was worth it. Wulf doesn't entirely resolve that question, but she does wonderfully sketch the race for scientific, and patriotic, glory."
      • premium: False
      • source: Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)
      • content: "Another fine example of such scientific storytelling. . . . Narrated with elegant expertise."
      • premium: False
      • source: Matthew Price, The Boston Globe
      • content: "The 18th century stargazers whom Andrea Wulf describes . . . would put Indiana Jones to shame. . . . Here is a book both astrophysicists and poets can enjoy."
      • premium: False
      • source: Ann Levin, The Denver Post
      • content: "Chasing Venus is [a] thrilling adventure story. . . . Wulf's marvelous eye for detail and talent for simplifying complex science make the book, timed for release a month before the last transit of this century, well worth reading before June."
      • premium: False
      • source: Booklist
      • content: "[An] enthusiastic account. . . . With the next transit predicted for June 6, 2012, Wulf's well-handled history arrives in a timely manner."
      • premium: False
      • source: Kirkus, starred review
      • content: "[Wulf] clearly explains how Venus' transit across the sun, which occurs every 105 years (and each time does so twice, at eight-year intervals--one will occur in June 2012), gave Enlightenment astronomers a chance to figure out such things as the distance between the earth and the sun. . . . Enlightening Enlightenment fare."
      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        Starred review from April 1, 2012
        In the late 18th century, European astronomers scurried about the globe measuring the transit of Venus, hoping, at last, to learn the size of our universe. Until this busy narrative, Wulf had turned her eyes more earthward with three previous outings about gardens (The Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation, 2011, etc.). Here she glides easily into the heavens, where she clearly explains how Venus' transit across the sun, which occurs every 105 years (and each time does so twice, at eight-year intervals--one will occur in June 2012), gave Enlightenment astronomers a chance to figure out such things as the distance between the earth and the sun. Their 1769 calculation--transit-derived--was quite close. The author follows the two international attempts, in 1761 and 1769, to accomplish the measurements from various global viewing points, describing in grim detail the vast difficulties of travel and communication, the geopolitical complications (wars didn't help) and the various personalities of potentates and scientists that characterized the endeavor. The 1761 transit occurred before everyone were sufficiently ready, and the measurements were disappointing; 1769 was better--though poor Guillaume Le Gentil of France, who'd spent nine years devoted to the projects, saw only clouds at his observatory in Pondicherry, India. Worse, Jean-Baptiste Chappe d'Auteroche died of typhus only days after his successful recordings. The author notes the imprecision of the instruments, the difficulties of determining precisely when the dark spot of Venus began and ended its journey across the sun's yellow wafer and the arduous treks Enlightenment men (yes, all men) undertook to Lapland, Tahiti, Hudson Bay and Baja. More than 100 pages of back matter reveal the sturdy research undergirding the lively narrative. Like a nonfiction National Treasure with myriads of Nicholas Cages darting around--in a good way. Enlightening Enlightenment fare.

        COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        June 1, 2012

        During Venus's transit, observers can see the planet as a small black dot against the face of the sun. The transit is a rare event: while the last one occurred in June 2004 and the next will occur in June of this year, Venus will not appear again between Earth and the Sun until December 2117. Like Mark Anderson's The Day the World Discovered the Sun (reviewed above), Wulf's (Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation) book is concerned with Venus's 1761 and 1769 transits, when the international science community dispatched a remarkable set of expeditions to remote parts of the world to observe and measure the planet's passages across the sun. Their primary objective was to use newly acquired observational data to improve knowledge of the distance between Earth and the Sun and the solar system's dimensions. Many of the traveling scientists underwent great travails, and several died. VERDICT Wulf well describes the scientific problems and physical trials these astronomers had to solve and endure. Recommended for all readers interested in the history of science.--Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI

        Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        May 1, 2012
        A rare, once-in-a-lifetime celestial event, a transit of Venus across the solar disk enables astronomers to measure the distance between the earth and the sun. The trigonometry of the measurement, however, requires observers to be separated by thousands of miles, which in 1761 and 1769, when transits were predicted by Edmund Halley, necessitated months and years of arduous travel to get into position. The voyages and their inevitable misadventures inspire Wulf's enthusiastic account, which opens with the international ringmaster for 1761, French astronomer Joseph-Nicolas Delisle. His pleas successfully instigated several expeditions that faced, in addition to the hazards of the sea and atrocious roads, those of the Seven Years' War. Whether enemy warships or clouds, mishaps so interfered with seeing Venus that 1761 was a dud. Motivated not to squander 1769, scientists again spread across the globe. Wulf details their finances, instruments, journeys (which cost several astronomers their lives), and the observations that triumphantly revealed the true dimensions of the solar system. With the next transit predicted for June 6, 2012, Wulf's well-handled history arrives in a timely manner.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2012, American Library Association.)

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A “thrilling adventure story" (San Francisco Chronicle) that brings to life the astronomers who in the 1700s embarked upon a quest to calculate the size of the solar system, and paints a vivid portrait of the collaborations, rivalries, and volatile international politics that hindered them at every turn. • From the author of Magnificent Rebels and New York Times bestseller The Invention of Nature.

On June 6, 1761, the world paused to observe a momentous occasion: the first transit of Venus between the Earth and the Sun in more than a century. Through that observation, astronomers could calculate the size of the solar system—but only if they could compile data from many different points of the globe, all recorded during the short period of the transit. Overcoming incredible odds and political strife, astronomers from Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, and the American colonies set up observatories in the remotest...
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