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Planetary Astronomy: From Ancient Times to the Third Millennium Hardcover – November 1, 1998
From Library Journal
As a scientific discipline, planetary astronomy has had a mixed career. Beginning with ancient Babylonian recorded observations of Venus and continuing through the early triumphs of Galileo and Copernicus and ensuing discoveries and observations of new planets, planetary studies for many years held a fascination for the public. However, by the 20th century the subject had fallen into disfavor. This all changed with the rise of the U.S. space program. Seemingly overnight, planetary astronomy regained its former prestigious status, bright young scientists saw it as a promising career, and?perhaps most importantly?big money began flowing in to support it. Schorn, a professor of physics and former chief planetary researcher at NASA, effectively chronicles this transition. He devotes most of his account to the past half-century, reviewing developments in the field's rebirth and, not surprisingly, placing a heavy emphasis on NASA programs. This fine scholarly but readable historical review of a fascinating subject should be in all astronomy collections. (Illustrations not seen.)?Donald J. Marion, Univ. of Minnesota Science & Engineering Lib., Minneapolis
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Of course, planetary astronomy is generally categorized as consisting of the outer planets and inner planets of the Solar System. Schorn begins with a discussion of the nighttime sky and what one may view there. While he discusses the possibilities for origins of the universe, and the galaxies on view every night, his focus is on what planets one might view with the naked eye, relatively simple telescopes, and then more complex instruments. At that point he journeys back in time to the earliest observations by the ancients and how they constructed their understanding of the universe based on astronomical observations. He then quickly moves forward to the twentieth century when understandings of planetary astronomy changed rapidly in response to ground and airborne observatories and especially space probes sent to the various planets of the Solar System.
Schorn discusses at some length the many spacecraft that have been sent to the inner planets by the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as European and Japanese consortia, traveling to Mercury, Venus, and particularly Mars. This book explains well the story of such missions as the Mariner series that journeyed to these planets, the two Viking spacecraft that landed on Mars in 1976, and plans for future explorations of the red planet. Some spacecraft have been sent, but far fewer, to the outer planets. Visits to the gas giants of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, and the small distant rock known as Pluto have been largely the province of the United States' efforts. NASA, for example, sent Pioneer 10 and 11 on a "windshield" tour of Jupiter and Saturn in the 1970s; following soon thereafter with Voyagers 1 and 2 that flew past the gas giants beginning in the latter 1970s through the 1980s. This activity, Schorn asserts, represents a golden age for Solar System exploration.
Schorn is at his best in discussing the decline of planetary astronomy in the early twentieth century--as astronomers led by Edwin Hubble focused their attention on galaxies beyond the Milky Way rather than on the Solar System--and its recovery in the 1960s as NASA reenergized planetary exploration with the first probes to Venus and Mars. This reemphasis on planetary astronomy was actually quite practical. The recently created NASA held a mandate to undertake exploration of the cosmos with both human and robotic spacecraft. Since the technical capability for planetary exploration existed, NASA's scientists focused their attention there. Even more important, according to Schorn, these scientists also emphasized lunar exploration as an adjunct of NASA's Apollo program to humans on the Moon. These efforts revitalized scientific study of the Solar System and yielded an enormous harvest of understanding about our immediate corner of the universe.
Easy to read and dased on a wealth of sources, both oral and written, "Planetary Astronomy" is a wonderful introduction to an enthralling subject. Enjoy!