The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of Venus

Overview

On June 3, 1769, the planet Venus briefly passed across the face of the sun in a cosmic alignment that occurs twice per century. Anticipation of the rare celestial event sparked a worldwide competition among aspiring global superpowers, each sending their own scientific expeditions to far-flung destinations to time the planet’s trek. These pioneers used the “Venus Transit” to discover the physical dimensions of the solar system and refine the methods of discovering longitude at ...

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The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of Venus

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Overview

On June 3, 1769, the planet Venus briefly passed across the face of the sun in a cosmic alignment that occurs twice per century. Anticipation of the rare celestial event sparked a worldwide competition among aspiring global superpowers, each sending their own scientific expeditions to far-flung destinations to time the planet’s trek. These pioneers used the “Venus Transit” to discover the physical dimensions of the solar system and refine the methods of discovering longitude at sea.

In this fast-paced narrative, Mark Anderson reveals the stories of three Venus Transit voyages—to the heart of the Arctic, the New World, and the Pacific&#151that risked every mortal peril of a candlelit age. With time running out, each expedition struggles to reach its destination—a quest that races to an unforgettable climax on a momentous summer day when the universe suddenly became much larger than anyone had dared to imagine.

The Day the World Discovered the Sun tells an epic story of the enduring human desire to understand our place in the universe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this exciting tale—part detective story, part history of science—Anderson (“Shakespeare” by Another Name) vividly recreates the torturous explorations and enthralling discovery of three peripatetic and insatiably curious explorers. The French astronomer Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche, the British naval captain James Cook, and the Hungarian scientist and priest Maximilian Hell chased Venus across the sky in 1761 and 1769 as its shadow crossed the sun and they sought to uncover one of the 18th-century’s greatest scientific mysteries: the dimensions of the solar system. In these voyages, Cook, Chappe, and Hell determined that the Sun is 95 million miles from Earth and that the Sun’s horizontal parallax is about eight and a half seconds. These discoveries also led to the establishment of lunar longitude methods and the use of the sextant to determine longitude. Anderson points out that the next transit of Venus in June 2012 is sure to add to astronomers’ understanding of the nature of exoplanets in our solar system and whether or not such planets can support life similar to Earth. 16 pages of b&w photos. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. (June)
From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly, 3/19/12
“In this exciting tale—part detective story, part history of science—Anderson (“Shakespeare” by Another Name) vividly recreates the torturous explorations and enthralling discovery of three peripatetic and insatiably curious explorers.”

Kirkus Reviews, 4/15/12
“A scientific adventure tale in which astronomers risk their lives, traveling the high seas in winter, trekking over ice-bound Siberia and facing deadly diseases…A lively, fitting tribute to ‘mankind’s first international ‘big science’ project.’”
 

NorthamptonValleyAdvocate, 3/29/12
“Anderson's prose [is] gleaming with a stout and convincing imagining of the past…An adventure tale that brings to life knowledge that is a touch esoteric, yet was at the center of vital, practical pursuits of the 18th century.”
 
RoanokeTimes, 4/8
“An armchair travel adventure.”
 
AstroGuyz.com, 4/20/12
“I can think of no finer reading companion to warm you up for [the transit of Venus] than this week’s review, The Day the World Discovered the Sun…This book reads like a fine historical adventure novel…The book doesn’t back away from the ‘good stuff’ that astronomical history buffs yearn for…A table is included for the mathematically curious, and tales of astronomical intrigue abound.”
 

Booklist, 5/15/12
“A fine combination of popular science and real-life adventure that will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers.”
 
Discover, June 2012
“[An] intense account of efforts to measure the rare celestial event.”
 
New Scientist, May 2012
“Truly excellent…Anderson writes as if the reader is on the very shoulders of the adventurers as they sledge across the icy wastes of Siberia or sail across uncharted oceans…communicat[ing] the verve and energy—not to mention the perilous nature—of the expeditions.”
 
Daily Hampshire Gazette, 5/11/12
“A rollicking tale of 18th-century scientific exploration and adventure.”

Nature, 5/17/12
“[An] excellent account…Arresting…Anderson serves up a rich broth of details.”

AND Online Magazine, 5/26/12
“All three expeditions are compelling, with riveting accounts of the voyages to the far-flung points of observation, and a fast-paced narrative that has you on the edge of your seat, rooting for each of the teams of astronomers to be able to have the opportunity to actually see the transit of Venus on June 3, 1769 without the threat of clouds, broken equipment, dangerous weather, angry natives, or debilitating illness. Anderson weaves the three stories together seamlessly and The Day the World Discovered the Sun is a book about scientific advancement and adventure that is somehow able to avoid being bogged down with the complexities of science.”
 
Macleans.ca, 5/28/12
“It’s a heck of a yarn—a sort of real-life literal Star Trek from the era of tall ships, terra incognita, and scientific Enlightenment.”
 

Library Journal, 6/1/12
“Recommended for casual students of history and astronomy.”
 
Popular Science Online, 6/5/12
“From the beginning, you are alongside the famous explorers…Anderson draws on his background in physics as well as a career writing about Elizabethan England to tell the story.”
 
National Geographic Online, 6/5/12
“A clever and very entertaining book…an adventure tale, a story of human ‘drive and endurance’ with voyages to the poles and everywhere in between to unlock a scientific mystery.”
 
Desert News, 6/2/12
“Reads like a mystery. Anderson describes various astronomical puzzles that each explorer has to piece together in order to form the larger picture…A book that pays tribute to men who are not mentioned in textbooks. It is a book for all people, not just those who are interested in astronomy.”
 
Technology & Society Book Review, 6/4/12
“Both an adventure tale and a look back into the history of science.”
 
WinnipegFree Press, 6/2/12“A worthwhile read for anyone with compatible interests.”

ConcordMonitor, 6/10/12“Anderson explores the personalities and politics behind the transit observation expeditions, melding history and science in a fascinating story of the first large-scale international scientific effort…Anderson makes each expedition come alive; the challenges and detours, hopes and hubris… Whether you like science or political intrigue, space or human nature, or simply want to marvel at these men's accomplishments, Anderson delivers.” 

Internet Review of Books, 6/15/12
“A wonderful retelling of several intrepid expeditions to the corners of earth in search of a higher human aspiration—scientific truth.”


Midwest Book Review
, August 2012

“A fine guide for any interested in astronomy’s link to mankind’s development.”

Portland
Book Review, 6/14/12
“It is rare that a history book can be described as genuinely suspenseful. Anderson’s narrative is exciting; his description of three different expeditions reads like an adventure novel.”

Choice, November 2012
“Highly recommended.”

ReadersLane.com, 1/17/13
“An entertaining read for anyone interested in astronomy or the history of science.”

Library Journal
In 1769, in one of the earliest examples of "team science," expeditions were organized to collect observational data of the transit of Venus—which occurs when the planet's orbit crosses between the Sun and Earth—from several points on the globe. Spurred by the data from Venus's 1761 transit, the natural philosophers of the day knew that the 1769 transit measurements were key to calculating with greater accuracy the distance between Earth and the Sun as well as to better determining longitude for ship navigation. Anderson ("Shakespeare" by Another Name) tells the stories of three research voyages: James Cook's to Tahiti on the British Endeavour, French astronomer Jean-Baptiste Chappe d'Auteroche's on La Concepción to the Gulf of California, and the Hungarian Jesuit scientist Maximilian Hell's to the Arctic Circle on the Urania. Their experiences are woven into an adventure tale informed by diary entries of the time. Astronomers today are preparing for a June 6, 2012, transit, which like the 18th-century transit is the second within a decade; the last was in 2004 and the next will be in 2117. VERDICT Recommended for casual students of history and astronomy.—Sara Rutter, Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu
Kirkus Reviews
A scientific adventure tale in which astronomers risk their lives, traveling the high seas in winter, trekking over ice-bound Siberia and facing deadly diseases. Anderson ("Shakespeare" by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare, 2005) examines the scope of the 18th-century international project to determine the distance between the earth and the sun by measuring the transit of the planet Venus across its surface. He compares it to recent investigations like the mapping of the human genome, NASA's Apollo program and the building of the Large Hadron Collider. In 1761 and again in 1769, teams of astronomers circumnavigated the globe to make precise measurements of the transit. Although England, France, Prussia, Austria and Russia were at war, they collaborated on this major scientific venture, a once-in-a-century opportunity. In both years, Venus was observed and timed as it appeared to traverse the sun, using trigonometric calculations to triangulate the distance. Anderson writes that this was a marriage of advanced science and technology with extreme adventure, resulting in spinoffs such as the development of precision timekeepers and the reliable calculations of longitude. The achievement was commemorated by "the Apollo 15 mission…command module [which] was named Endeavour"--after Captain Cook's ship--and carried "a block of wood from the sternpost of [his] original HMS Endeavour." In 1769, the ship carried England's crew and succeeded in its mission, despite suffering the tragic deaths of most of its scientific crew. While the trigonometric calculations were state-of-the-art, if tedious, transporting the telescopic equipment, building observatories on the spot, making the observations and braving the rigors of the journey were anything but. A lively, fitting tribute to "mankind's first international ‘big science' project."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306820380
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 5/8/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 983,548
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Anderson is the author of “Shakespeare” By Another Name and has covered science, history, and technology for many media outlets, including Discover and National Public Radio. He holds a BA in physics, an MS in astrophysics, and lives in western Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 A Star in the Sun 5

2 The Choicest Wonders 25

3 Flying Bridges 45

4 The Mighty Dimensions 57

5 The Book and the Ship 77

6 Voyage en Californie 97

7 Great Expedition 117

8 Some Unfrequented Part 137

9 A Shining Band 155

10 Fort Venus 163

11 Behind the Sky 177

12 Subjects and Discoveries 187

13 Sail to the Southward 195

14 Eclipse 205

Epilogue 217

Acknowledgments 229

Technical Appendix 231

Notes 241

Index 269

Illustrations follow page 136

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