18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2009
I am an astronomy hobbyist with little math or science background. Through excellent podcasts such as Astronomy Cast and Professor Richard Pogue's lectures at Ohio State University I have gained a lot of factual and theoretical knowledge over the past couple of years (but the more I learn the more ignorant I feel). With this background gained, I was able to appreciate, learn from, and enjoy "The Day We found the Universe" while getting a fresh perspective of the history of astronomy. The most interesting part of the book for me was the discovery of the nature of variable stars such as the Cepheids. These stars turned out to be what author Marcia Bartusiak describes as the "Rosetta stone" in understanding the universe. The most striking stream of this book is that the discovery of multiple galaxies in a huge expanding universe was the result of at least two centuries of astronomical exploration rather than a light turned on by Edwin Hubble. While by no means denigrating the achievement of Hubble, Bartusiak proves that the greatest accomplishment of 20th century astronomy was a joint effort as many scientists built a foundation of small steps for Hubble to lay the final bricks. "The Day We Found the Universe fills a wonderful niche for hobbyists such as me. It is far from dumbed down, but steers clear of bogging down with too many technical details and mathematical formulas while teaching a lot and inspiring me with a hunger to deepen my understanding of the nature of universe.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2009
It must be challenging for an author who is writing on scientific and technical matters to strike an ideal balance that will both captivate the scientific types as well as fascinate the general readers. As difficult as this may be, this author has succeeded admirably. Focusing mainly on that scientifically heady period from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, she relates the story of how astronomers (and some physicists) discovered the immensity of the universe. In addition to clearly explaining the important scientific challenges and breakthroughs, the author does a fabulous job on the all-important human element. Here we meet the cast of characters with all of their virtues and shortcomings. Of course, their mutual interrelations also make for interesting reading - most of these being very positive while some much less so. The writing style is clear, friendly, widely accessible and quite gripping. Although science buffs (especially astronomy buffs) will likely consider this book a real treat, any interested general reader can also thoroughly enjoy it thanks to the author's very limited use of jargon and her clear explanations for any unfamiliar terms.
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2009
the best review of how the universe was discovered in the first half of the 20th century; I haven't enjoyed a book like this since I read "The Red Limit" by Ferris back when I was just aspiring to become an astronomer. This book corrects the common misconception that Hubble, Hale and Einstein were the only players in a very convoluted story with many dead ends and false leads. I espically liked that V. M. Slipher, Heber Curtis and in particular Milton Humason (since I could identify with someone who spent uncountable hours in the observing room of a large telescope gathering data for astronomers), finally got at least some of the credit for what was clearly an international effort to reveal the true nature of the universe. A big thumbs up! Perhaps in the future Ms. Bartusiak will write about how humanity discovered the true nature, distances, and lives of the stars. joe caruso
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2009
This is an extremely interesting and unusually well-written book. It is a carefully researched, but very entertainingly presented, history of early astrophysics. The author describes most of the astronomers and astrophysicists of the late 19th and early 20th century. She presents arguments, calculations and/or observations they made that led to the discovery that many of the "fuzzy" objects seen in a dark sky are huge galaxies that lie outside of our Milky Way galaxy. The author writes with great style and with lots of detail about the individuals as well as their discoveries and arguments with each other. As a scientist, I was struck most of all by the huge amount of time someone like Hubble spent establishing that these other galaxies exist, how large they are and that the universe is expanding. We all remember the "Billions and Billions" phrases from early TV, but usually have no clue how many people spent their professional lives establishing these facts and dealing with those who had trouble accepting them.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2009
The late 1800s and early 1900s were definitely a time of change in many areas, as everyone knows, including the field of astronomy. This book points out a number of amazing things that those of us living 80-100 years after the events of this book maybe don't think about. First of all, it wasn't that long ago that scientists didn't even know some basic things like the age and size of the universe, the existence of other galaxies and the origins of the cosmos. While there wasn't necessarily one day when it all came into focus, the events described in this book led to answers falling into places once Edwin Hubble published some of his findings, thus the title is interestingly appropriate in a number of ways. Second, when we think about events so long ago, they tend to blend together and we tend to focus on one or two landmark publications or facts, but as this book points out, some of the answers were only arrived at after years and decades of consideration by astronomers based on painstaking observations and calculations. It's not like Hubble looked into a telescope one day and saw something that instantly changed everything, even though he did discover something one day that eventually led to a resolution of many of the questions of his day. Most of the astronomers described in this book spent hours upon hours in cold domes photographing distant objects many times over the course of days, months and years. This book is not necessarily that different from many popular books on science in that it covers the history of discoveries by mixing the actual science with biographical material on the scientists. This book is special in that the mix is just right. The author doesn't go overboard with either the mundane details of the astronomers' personal lives or the complexities of the science. The book is somewhat dense, especially at the beginning and at times it's hard to keep track of who was working where at what time, but in the end it all comes together in a nice tapestry. One recurring theme in the book is how popular perceptions over time have tended to forget some of the key figures that did groundbreaking research and that some of these people could easily have taken the glory if a few other factors had turned out differently. The author even seems to suggest that the idea of a large universe made up of many galaxies could have been settled earlier perhaps if a few people had done things somewhat differently. As I read this book, I could easily visualize life as an astronomer in the early 1900s with the excitement of new telescopes and new areas for discovery coming on-line all the time. What's really nice about this book is that even though the main story ends with develpments in the 1930s and 1940s, the author finishes up by summarizing what happend to the various characters and institutions after that. Many of the places and telescopes instrumental in making these discoveries are still in operation and can be visited by anyone today. This is the kind of book that could inspire someone to become an astronomer. The characters in the story range from a guy with an 8th grade education who became one of Hubble's close associates, and women who were brought into some cataloging and calculating projects at a time when women had less opportunities on up to famous characters like Hubble and Einstein.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2011
We are led through an intimate wonderland of familiar faces representing the greatest thinkers of the cosmos. Pulling on the loose threads of early players, Bartusiak has created a platform from which we can see the farthest reaches of what we can observe, justifying what she researched while balancing precariously on the shoulders of giants. She leads us to believe that during each stage of discovery, the pioneers could not possibly have seen the larger picture. Only theorists who looked beyond their imagination could perceive that the grandest of schemes was even grander than even the giants knew.
Many people think that the greatest discoveries came from a magnificent awe, a sudden revelation that something magic pervaded the night sky. That's not how it came to be. It was the work of countless unknowns, charting and logging data for years and looking at the sky nightly. The culmination of the greatest investigators of the twentieth century directed us to think that the universe was grander than we could ever imagine. Viewing through the new 100-inch Lick Observatory telescope in the early part of the century, our first glimpse at Andromeda was vague and fuzzy, only hinting at what it might be. Observers in those days referred to galaxies as nebulae not knowing what else to call them. Other exotic real estate such as quasars, neutron stars, and black holes were not in the picture at all.
By 1995, when the space telescope named after the late Edwin Hubble, placated the theoretical physicists and haunted others, it began to validate theories by dazzling discoveries and awakening a fresh view of proposals made three-quarters of a century ago. The enormous scale of the universe could not have been imagined in the early days. It would be a full revelation to discover hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. The Day We Found the Universe is a long one. It is a day that encompasses the twentieth century.
The author has uncovered the magnitude of the enormity of the universe by summoning these great minds together in a single volume and identifying them as leaders of the movement confirming we have indeed found the universe.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2012
I knew virtually nothing about Astronomy before reading this book and I can say that after finishing it I came back with quite a bit of knowledge and topics to ponder upon. As someone who knows nothing about the subject, I was able to follow the Bartusiak extremely well. Each "main character" of astronomical discoveries are introduced with some insight on their personal life, background, and on occasion their personality. You really get a sense of not only who these people are but why they remain so important to present-day culture. Topics were revisited throughout the course of the book so that by the end of it I had a rather good idea of what the theories being discussed were and how they had changed over the course of time. When Bartusiak begins a new chapter and hasn't talked about a person introduced in a previous one in quite some time, she will give a brief sentence reminding the reader who they are...which really helped me to follow the flow of the book because I'm someone who will often forget. Theories such as relativity, the island-universe theory and an extensive amount of discussion on nebulae can be found in this book. If you want to know some information about the great minds of astronomy such as Eisenstein (indirectly so), Edwin Hubble, Vesto Slipher, George Ellery Hale and so on without having to individually pick up a biography for each one of them, this is the perfect book for you.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Well written. Ms Bartusiak organized the advances made by leading astronomers into very readable passages and rendered an overall view of how astronomers arrived at todays knowledge of our universe.
It is non-technical and very well suited to non-scientific readers who are interested in astronomy.
Highly recommended. Paul of Freedom, NH
on January 28, 2015
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This tells the story of how astronomers finally came round to see what Immanual Kant thought was "obvious," namely that all of the spiral "nebula" were HUGE "island universes" like our entire Milky Way Galaxy, and not merely small proto-solar and proto-planetary disks of condensing gas and dust. As with all of the Bartusiak books this one too is well-written and easy and fun to read. Especially interesting to me was just how close the Lick Observatory's Director, James E. Keeler, came to figuring out that the island universe interpretation was true, well before Curtis and Hubble finally provided evidence for the claim. Had he but lived a few months longer, Keeler's spectroscopic data of numerous spirals would have cinched the point. Unfortunately, like many others before him, he seems to have balked psychologically at accepting a univdrse that was so HUGE that even the 200 million stars of the Milky Way composed but one "galaxy" -- a term utilized only later -- among literally trillions of others in the observable universe. Still more unfortunately Keeler didn't live to complete his cutting-edge research, but died of lung failure and/or strokes, in 1900, at age 43!!
Another good book which tells essentially the same story is "Man Discovers the Galaxies" by Berendzen, Hart ands Seeley. That work came out in 1976 but is still considered the best account of the narrative of the discovery of the enormous size of the universe. That book also deserves 5 stars, IMO, but, while it includes more photographs etc., it doesn't include several very interesting parts of the quest, -- like the story of Keeler's death just on the brink of figuring it all out -- that are included in Bartusiak's more recent book.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2010
In The Day We Found the Universe Marcia Bartusiak explains how the universe was discovered one building block at a time, each scientist adding her/his discovery atop the insights of previous scientists. In spite of the--ah-hah!--insight of Lucretius (1 BC), the earliest Greek scientists strongly held the belief that the nightly stars were embedded in some kind of a dome-like ethereal sphere over their flat world.
Knowing that some of the lights seemed to move over time, The Day We Found the Universe tells how many of these early thinkers spent their lives calculating the precise reoccurring orbits of these heavenly lights. But some noticed all did not travel at the same speed; in fact, some appeared to reverse themselves and then move forward again. As a result, these lighted bodies were thought to be traveling in numerous crystalline spheres, the slower moving lights in spheres more distant from earth.
It wasn't until the eighteenth century when men like Galileo began to study the universe that Lucretius' prediction was appreciated; there is no lid to the universe. Instead, It extends far beyond our own sun/star and its planets. In fact, our solar system was given the majestic center position in the middle of a vast array of what appeared to be a flat gaseous disk called the Milky Way.
The Day We Found the Universe tells how, with the invention of larger and more powerful telescopic lenses, scientists eventually noticed that this gaseous milky disk in which our solar system floats was not a gas at all. Incredibly, it consists of thousands upon thousands of extremely distant stars giving the illusion of a wispy gas to the naked eye and primitive telescopes.
But with the telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory, Edwin Hubble noticed that a star, which appeared to be in our Milky Way, was in fact outside it. This sparkler looked like part of a gaseous cloud called Andromeda. With keen observation over time, Hubble deduced with certainty that what he saw was not just a single star. No, It was one of countless stars that made up what appeared to be Andromeda's dusty gas. He concluded that each dust particle was an entire stellar body.
The next startling discovery occurred when scientists applied the idea that light, when passing through a prism, breaks down according to what elements are burning to produce that light. Upon further examination, this spectrum is not continuous as one might expect. Instead, it is broken up by thin lines. Armed with these signature lines within the spectral colors, astronomers and physicists could accurately determine what materials even the most distant stars were made of.
But according to The Day We Found the Universe, next came the mind boggling discovery that our universe is expanding. The galaxies and their individual stars with their solar systems are moving away from what would have been a single vortex or ignition point. Why was this a certainty. This happened when scientists noticed the spectral lines for a given element were indeed there, but were shifted.
When burning elements on planet earth are examined through a spectroscope, their elemental colors appear with their spectral lines. When distant stars are examined with a spectroscope, their signature elemental colors and lines are present, but the tell-tale lines are shifted toward the red end of the color spectrum. The only logical conclusion is that these burning bodies are moving away from a central point at tremendous speeds.
And where are they going? Father Georges LeMaitre, believing that space time is stretching, proved to Einstein and other astronomers and astrophysicists that "The galaxies are not rushing through space but instead are being carried along as space-time inflates without end."
Thus, astronomers now believe they've uncovered the universe for what it is. It is not infinite. But it is vast; so vast that our species will never reach even the nearest star.
Even IF somehow a spaceship could be built to travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), generation after generation after generation would have to be born, live out their lives, and die on that spaceship before a human being would finally reach the nearest star if that infernos body has a planet favorable to human life orbiting it.
Want an entertaining, easy-to-follow description of the scientists and their discoveries which led to our current paradigm about the universe? Then The Day We Found the Universe is a must read for you. Often we get so intimately involved with our own inner and outer makeup that we give little thought to our very being--the incredulous, maybe even precarious existence of our species on the third planet from our sun. This book will undoubtedly puzzle you with four outstanding paradoxes:
---1) If the universe is expanding so very rapidly from a single point, what was its inconceivable Big Bang beginning?
---2) If the universe will expand forever, then we have an incident occuring without cause that has a beginning and no ending.
---3) If the universe is moving outward from a single point, it is reasonable to think that sooner or later a "doughnut hole" of nothingness will be left growing in the center in due time.
---4) Will another universe begin in that "doughnut hole" of nothingness? If it happened once, why could it not happen again ... and again ... and ...?
The Day We Found the Universe I would recommend to any reader who, like me, has always stared upward at the night sky with awe. The universe and its meaning will always be a thorn in thinking man's brain but after reading Bartusiak's enjoyable book, you will be inspired to imagine, wonder and then hunt more answers, knowing of course they may never be found.
Review written by Regis Schilken
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