Simon Newcomb: America's Unofficial Astronomer Royal

Overview

In 1853, at age 18, Simon Newcomb arrived in the United States penniless, with no proven job skills, and without even a high school diploma. Fifty-six years later, in 1909, President William H. Taft attended his funeral service, and "America’s Unofficial Astronomer Royal" was laid to rest with full military honors, in Arlington National Cemetery. After graduating from Harvard University and receiving a Commission as a Professor of Mathematics, U.S. Navy (signed by President Abraham Lincoln) Newcomb: traveled the ...
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Overview

In 1853, at age 18, Simon Newcomb arrived in the United States penniless, with no proven job skills, and without even a high school diploma. Fifty-six years later, in 1909, President William H. Taft attended his funeral service, and "America’s Unofficial Astronomer Royal" was laid to rest with full military honors, in Arlington National Cemetery. After graduating from Harvard University and receiving a Commission as a Professor of Mathematics, U.S. Navy (signed by President Abraham Lincoln) Newcomb: traveled the world to observe solar eclipses and a transit of Venus; supervised the construction of the world’s largest aperture refracting telescope; measured the velocity of light better than anyone had before; computed the astronomical unit (distance from Earth to the Sun) to within 0.005 percent of today’s value; reconciled the observed variation of latitude with theory: estimated the elasticity of Earth from the observed variation of latitude; computed the motions of the moon; and dared to suggest that the anomalous motion of Mercury may be caused by "non- gravitational" forces. As a close friend of James A. Garfield, Newcomb convinced the doctors attending the mortally wounded President to use Alexander Graham Bell’s "induction balance" to search for the assassin’s bullet lodged in his abdomen. His desperate attempt to save the life of the popular young President failed, but the American people appreciated Newcomb’s effort, and shared his frustration and grief.
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Editorial Reviews

International Association of Geodesy Newsletter
Simon Newcomb was one of the most important American scientists of the nineteenth century . . . in the hands of these authors Simon Newcomb comes alive . . . this enjoyable book makes the life of this extraordinary astronomer available to a popular audience.
—Charles R. Schwarz
Physics Today
"...the Carters' book fills an important gap in astronomical history. I recommend it to libraries and individuals interested in the history of American astronomy. But maybe the best recommendation is that I had a lot of fun reading the book-and I could not put it down until finished."
—Bradley E. Schaefer, Louisiana State University
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591138037
  • Publisher: Mantanzas Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/20/2006
  • Pages: 228
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2006

    Simon Newcomb: America's Unofficial Astronomer Royal

    Just as Physics is personified by Albert Einstein, Mathematics by Isaac Newton and Chemistry by Louis Pasteur, so to the personification of Astronomy the name Simon Newcomb should be added to those of Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Nicolas Copernicus and George Airy. If the United States had the official position of Astronomer Royal as they have in England, it would most certainly have been occupied by Simon Newcomb. The justification for this is amply provided in the new biography, Simon Newcomb, America¿s Unofficial Astronomer Royal, by Bill and Merri Sue Carter. This father/daughter team is the same that brought us Latitude, How American Astronomers Solved the Mystery of Variation, a biography of Seth Chandler. Simon Newcomb was one of the most influential astronomers of the Nineteenth Century both in the US and Europe. This absorbing account of Newcomb¿s life takes us from his early youth in Canada through immigration to the US and graduation from Harvard University in two years while he worked for the Nautical Almanac Office. In his progression to ultimately become a world famous scientist, the authors cover both his triumphs and his travails, and show the whole man, ¿warts and all¿, as Ben Franklin might have said. Simon made many fundamental contributions to astronomy, including the orbital calculations needed to verify the existence of moons around Mars, which had been detected by an observer using a new telescope designed and built by Newcomb. He made more precise measurements of the speed of light with Michelson, and refined the estimates of the astronomical unit (distance from Earth to the Sun) by observing the transits of Venus in 1874 and 1882 (of which the next one wouldn¿t occur until the year 2004). His first great scientific adventure was to travel to the wilds of Manitoba west of Lake Winnipeg to observe a total solar eclipse. Later he refined the orbital elements of our Moon, and his advanced set of solar system constants was accepted by Germany, France and Great Britain at the Paris Conference in May 1896, for producing future nautical almanacs and a star catalogue. But Simon¿s interests stretched beyond astronomy. When his friend President James Garfield lay dying in the heat of a Washington summer Simon Newcomb devised a method to cool the room even while the doors and windows remained open. He also collaborated with Alexander Graham Bell to develop an instrument to remotely probe the location of the assassin¿s bullet lodged somewhere in the President¿s body. A short review such as this cannot do justice to the richness of this biography. It is a fascinating story, and should be read by the general public as well as by scientists the world over. I am a Retired Scientist and author of 'The Metamorpphosis of a Geophysicist'

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2006

    Simon Newcomb: America's Unofficial Astronomer Royal

    Just as Physics is personified by Albert Einstein, Mathematics by Isaac Newton and Chemistry by Louis Pasteur, so to the personification of Astronomy the name Simon Newcomb should be added to those of Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Nicolas Copernicus and George Airy. If the United States had the official position of Astronomer Royal as they have in England, it would most certainly have been occupied by Simon Newcomb. The justification for this is amply provided in the new biography, Simon Newcomb, America¿s Unofficial Astronomer Royal, by Bill and Merri Sue Carter. This father/daughter team is the same that brought us Latitude, How American Astronomers Solved the Mystery of Variation, a biography of Seth Chandler. Simon Newcomb was one of the most influential astronomers of the Nineteenth Century both in the US and Europe. This absorbing account of Newcomb¿s life takes us from his early youth in Canada through immigration to the US and graduation from Harvard University in two years while he worked for the Nautical Almanac Office. In his progression to ultimately become a world famous scientist, the authors cover both his triumphs and his travails, and show the whole man, ¿warts and all¿, as Ben Franklin might have said. Simon made many fundamental contributions to astronomy, including the orbital calculations needed to verify the existence of moons around Mars, which had been detected by an observer using a new telescope designed and built by Newcomb. He made more precise measurements of the speed of light with Michelson, and refined the estimates of the astronomical unit (distance from Earth to the Sun) by observing the transits of Venus in 1874 and 1882 (of which the next one wouldn¿t occur until the year 2004). His first great scientific adventure was to travel to the wilds of Manitoba west of Lake Winnipeg to observe a total solar eclipse. Later he refined the orbital elements of our Moon, and his advanced set of solar system constants was accepted by Germany, France and Great Britain at the Paris Conference in May 1896, for producing future nautical almanacs and a star catalogue. But Simon¿s interests stretched beyond astronomy. When his friend President James Garfield lay dying in the heat of a Washington summer Simon Newcomb devised a method to cool the room even while the doors and windows remained open. He also collaborated with Alexander Graham Bell to develop an instrument to remotely probe the location of the assassin¿s bullet lodged somewhere in the President¿s body. A short review such as this cannot do justice to the richness of this biography. It is a fascinating story, and should be read by the general public as well as by scientists the world over. John R. Herman, author of The Metamorphosis of a Geophysicist

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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