Measuring the Universe
The Historical Quest to Quantify Space
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About the author
Kitty Ferguson is the author of Tycho and Kepler: The Unlikely Partnership that Forever Changed our Understanding of the Heavens, Prisons of Light: Black Holes and the definitive Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work. She studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York and was for many years a successful professional musician, conducting and performing oratorio, early music and chamber music. In 1986 she moved to England where her husband was a Visiting Fellow and later Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. During this and many subsequent periods of residence at Cambridge, Kitty Ferguson audited graduated lectures and seminars in the Department of Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics and got to know some of the legendary figures in those fields, including Stephen Hawking. In 1987 she retired from music to devote herself full time to writing about science.
Suppose you and I still wondered whether all of the pinpoints of light in the night sky are the same distance from us. Suppose none of our contemporaries could tell us whether the Sun orbits the Earth, or vice versa, or even how large the Earth is. Suppose no one had guessed there are mathematical laws underlying the motions of the heavens.
How would - how did - anyone begin to discover these numbers and these relationships without leaving the Earth? What made anyone even think it was possible to find out “how far,” without going there?
In Measuring the Universe we join our ancestors and contemporary scientists as they tease this information out of a sky full of stars. Some of the questions have turned out to be loaded, and a great deal besides mathematics and astronomy has gone into answering them. Politics, religion, philosophy and personal ambition: all have played roles in this drama.
There are poignant personal stories, of people like Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Herschel, and Hubble. Today scientists are attempting to determine the distance to objects near the borders of the observable universe, far beyond anything that can be seen with the naked eye in the night sky, and to measure time back to its origin. The numbers are too enormous to comprehend.
Nevertheless, generations of curious people have figured them out, one resourceful step at a time. Progress has owed as much to raw ingenuity as to technology, and frontier inventiveness is still not out of date.
; January 2013
320 pages; ISBN 9781448167227Read online
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Title: Measuring the Universe
Author: Kitty Ferguson
In the press
"Modern bookshelves are filled with stories of cosmic discovery. Occasionally, however, an author comes along who dares to describe how science works, who dares to find its underbelly and remind us that the romance and pleasure of cosmic discoveries lies not necessarily in experimental results but in the journey of measurements that led to them. Such an author is Kitty Ferguson, a musician turned science writer, who is distinguished as one who can explain complex things – from the life and times of cosmic objects like black holes to the life and times of cosmic physicists such as Stephen Hawking."