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Cosmic Discoveries : The Wonders of Astronomy
For many millennia the starry night sky has been a source of wonder and awe to men and women who have tried to unravel the mystery of the billion distant lights that fill the heavens after dark. The story of the great discoverers who succeeded in explaining part of the mystery is told here with the joy and infectious enthusiasm that only a fellow discoverer can convey. David Levy, codiscoverer of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, with his wife, Wendee Wallach-Levy, evokes that marvelous moment of "Eureka!" as he masterfully relates each story. He gives the reader a glimpse of the enthralling adventure of cosmic discovery through stories of the most famous and brilliant astronomers. Beyond their personal accomplishments, these scientists expanded all of humanity's understanding of the universe and our place within it.
For example, Galileo's breathtaking discovery of the moons of Jupiter, new worlds that refused to orbit the sun, challenged the whole doctrine of the earth being the center of the universe. With the start of the 20th century, Shapley pushed back the envelope that had been opened by Galileo by proving that the center of our galaxy is very far beyond our own sun. And Hubble showed that even our galaxy is but a tiny part of a universe that is rapidly expanding. In describing these milestones of science, Levy reveals his own spirited conversations with such luminaries of the imagination as the discoverer of the planet Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh, and one of the world's greatest science fiction writers, Sir Arthur C. Clarke.
Through Levy's unique perspective on cosmic discovery, he is able to connect his own personal life story with that of astronomers of the past and by extension with the history of the whole universe. As the codiscoverer of the spectacular comet that crashed into Jupiter, Levy formulated a whole new range of exciting questions about the universe: Do comets serve to transport the elements of life from one planet to the next? What is the evidence that a large comet once hit the earth? Will the earth someday be in danger of colliding with another such comet and will we have the technology to stop it?
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September 30, 2001
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