Halley's Quest

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More About This Textbook

Overview

For most people, Edmond Halley is best known for accurately predicting the periodic appearance of the comet that ultimately would bear his name. But his greatest achievement may have been overlooked— indeed few people know that it was Halley who solved the riddle of accurate navigation for all sea-going vessels.

As seventeenth-century scientists gradually came to believe that the inside of the Earth was magnetized they were puzzled by the fact magnetic north not only varied slightly from place to place, but gradually changed over time, suggesting a slow variation of the Earth's magnetic field. But if the Earth was permanently magnetized, how could its magnetism vary? Edmond Halley, Britain's Astronomer Royal, ingeniously proposed that the Earth contained a number of spherical shells, one inside the other, each magnetized differently, each slowly rotating in relation to the others. This brilliant deduction earned Halley the command of a small sailing ship, the 52-foot Paramore, and with it, a royal mandate. Halley was to sail forth “to stand so far into the South, till you discover the Coast of the Terra Incognita.” But more importantly, determine the variation between true and magnetic north in order to more accurately calculate longitude—a feat that would improve Britain's navigational skills and ensure its dominance of the high seas.

Halley's Quest takes readers on a trilogy of sea voyages, each of which proved to be as novel and revealing as it was difficult and controversial. But more than a yarn of risk and adventure, the story at the core of the book is a deeply personal and intellectual tale that captures the science and the spirit of an almost forgotten episode in the history of navigation. Once branded a heretic by the Church and denied a prestigious scholarly chair at Oxford University, Halley ultimately changed the course of science, producing charts that described more accurate ways to navigate and documenting new geophysical phenomena ranging from ocean patterns to the motion of Jupiter's moons. This delightful book emphasizes the drama of Halley's mission and the passion of an era hungry for the stories science had to tell.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780309095945
  • Publisher: National Academies Press
  • Publication date: 9/20/2005
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.76 (h) x 0.88 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2006

    More than a Comet Man

    For a long time, I didn't realize Halley was any more than a guy whose distinguished comet I had my picture taken with as a child during a freezing winter morning. Apparently he was quite the seafaring scientist and adventurer. Many know about the intellectual heavyweights in history such as Sir Issac, but rarely do we have an idea of how or why they attain such impressive accomplishments. This interesting read details a hero who set sure foundations in understanding a documented world we today take for granted on account of its simple accessibility- thanks to innovators like Edmund Halley.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2005

    Engaging like...Longitude

    The raves from Harvard and Smithsonian types made me think this might be too academic. But you soon become spellbound in an adventure story--one that happens to feature some giants of science and meaty controversy involving religion, poor seaman, mutinies on ship and on campus, etc. Halley shepherded Newton's main book, and apparently was the first civilian to ever command a Royal Navy vessel! (And apparently the last and you'll see why.) It's a quick read but she packs a lot in. When I see a shooting star, if not a Comet, I'll think back to this amazing period, from Queen Mary to Queen Anne, that made us all modern.

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