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Eclipse: The Celestial Phenomenon That Changed The Course Of History

by Duncan Steel

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From Library Journal
Many books have been written about eclipses, but few are as comprehensive as this one, first published in Britain in 2001 and now rewritten for a U.S. audience with new chapters that describe famous American eclipses, such as the Rocky Mountain eclipse of 1878. Steel, an astronomer and author of two previous books on asteroid and comet-impact hazards, clearly describes the science and history of solar and lunar eclipses. He also explains other kinds of eclipses, such as transits (when a planet passes in front of the sun) and occultations (when a planet or asteroid passes in front of a star or other body). Some cultures, he continues, saw eclipses as a message from God, and some used advance knowledge of them to manipulate the ignorant. Steel adds that eclipses have played a role in advancing scientific knowledge about, for example, the sun's chromosphere. His informative book is recommended for all astronomy collections. Jeffrey Beall, Univ. of Colorado Lib., Denver
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Astronomer Steel surveys eclipses of all types, although the solar variety get marquee billing. Frequently Steel relates the circumstances surrounding particularly famous eclipses, such as the one in 1919 that vindicated Einstein's theory of general relativity; elsewhere, he reaches back in history to describe superstitious reactions to eclipses. Steel's compendium ranges from entertaining information about eclipses to the scientific significance of the vast amount of technical information astronomers have teased out of these events. Such information includes that derived from studying the sun's corona; measurements of distances to the moon and sun; and, in combination with eclipse records made by ancient civilizations, deductions made about the lengthening day or the moon's recession from the earth. Steel's ambit also encompasses the uses made of occultations, such as measuring the shapes of asteroids, and of the rare transits of Venus across the solar disk, which James Cook measured during saunters in the South Seas in 1769. Generously illustrated, Steel's informative discourse also promises staying power by ending with a guide to the next two decades of solar eclipses. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Booklist, October 15, 2001
"Advanced astronomy students will enjoy this in-depth exploration."

Booklist, October 15, 2001
"Generously illustrated, Steel's informative discourse…promises staying power by ending with a guide to the next two decades of solar eclipses."

MERCURY, Jan/Feb 2002
"...fascinating stories of history and science..."

Book Description
Whether interpreted as an auspicious omen or a sentinel of doom, eclipses have had a profound effect upon our cultural development. Throughout recorded history, they have evoked consternation, fear, and dread—as well as awe and wonderment.

Ancient peoples were clearly disconcerted by them. The Romans marked pivotal battles with the Greeks by references to an eclipse. The date of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has been derived by using biblical mentions of an eclipse. Perhaps most famously, Christopher Columbus extorted much-needed foodstuffs from some increasingly unfriendly native hosts by purporting to demonstrate the wrath of his most powerful God when he accurately predicted a lunar eclipse.

The pattern that eclipses follow—a cycle, called the saros—was actually calculated thousands of years ago. However, it is only with the help of modern computers that we have been able to analyze and appreciate the data. Eclipses provide unique opportunities for today’s scientists to study such contrasting phenomena as the upper layers of the sun, the slowdown of our planet’s spin rate, and the effects of celestial events on human psychology.

In Eclipse, Duncan Steel expertly captures our continuing fascination with all manner of eclipses—including the familiar solar and lunar varieties and other kinds involving stars, planets, asteroids, and comets as well as distant galaxies and quasars. Steel helps us see that, in astronomical terms, eclipses are really rather straightforward affairs. Moving beyond the mysticism and the magic, the science of eclipses is revealed.

Book Info
Advanced astronomy students will enjoy this in-depth exploration. Author expertly captures our continuing fascination with all manner of eclipses.

From the Inside Flap
Since the dawn of time, eclipses have been perceived as peculiarly portentous events, evoking consternation, fear, and dread—as well as awe and wonder—and they have had a profound effect upon our cultural development. The Romans marked pivotal battles with the Greeks by references to an eclipse. The date of the Crucifixion has been derived by using biblical mentions of an eclipse. And as part of a brazen plan, Christopher Columbus accurately predicted an impending eclipse, enabling him to extricate himself from a run-in with unfriendly natives.

In this sweeping saga of science and civilization, astronomer Duncan Steel explains everything you thought you could ever learn about eclipses, and then some. For eclipses occur not only within the sun-earth-moon system, but also on Jupiter, Saturn, and many other planets; in double-star systems; even between galaxies and quasars.

Much more than just a heavenly curiosity, eclipses constitute a laboratory for the vast, mysterious universe. In 1919, an eclipse of the sun was used to prove a key element of Einstein’s theory of general relativity once and for all, catapulting the scientist into the international spotlight. Today, astronomers are using the Hubble Space Telescope and vast arrays of radio telescopes to determine how the images of distant quasars are distorted and amplified through “gravitational lensing” by intervening galaxies.

Through fascinating stories of history and science, and almost 100 beautiful illustrations, eclipses are revealed as unique opportunities to study the science of our universe and the perplexing effects of celestial events on human psychology.

For the enterprising reader or amateur astronomer, Eclipse includes an appendix that will show you how calculate and predict future eclipses of all kinds.

“...enthralling ... gripping ... an excellent overview of the history and astronomy of the phenomenon.” New Scientist (London)

“No one should end their life’s journey without experiencing a total eclipse of the Sun, nature’s most beautiful yet fearsome gift. Many other bodies in the universe—from tiny minor planets to giant clusters of galaxies—also eclipse and are eclipsed. These rare happenings have a rich history, human as well as scientific, here nicely compiled by a gifted astronomer and science writer.” Leif J. Robinson Editor Emeritus, Sky & Telescope.

“Beginning with an unusual view of the most famous eclipse of all time, Steele entertains with fascinating facts, anecdotes and trivia about one of Nature's most awesome spectacles.” Gerrit L. Verschuur Author of Impact: The Threat of Comets and Asteroids and Hidden Attraction: The History and Mystery of Magnetism

“…casts a wonderful light on the Earth-darkening event.” Daily Telegraph (London)

“Total solar eclipses are the most awe-inspiring celestial phenomena that occur, and Duncan Steel tells us how and why in his book Eclipse. The human interest stories of past eclipses mix with eclipse science to show readers why they should travel thousands of miles for the thrill of eclipses and what past scientists and tourists have found and experienced.” Jay M. Pasachoff Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy, Williams College and Chair of the Working Group on Solar Eclipses of the International Astronomical Union

Who'd have imagined that eclipses--those mere wandering shadows--could lead us on such an enthralling tour of cultural as well as scientific history? Steel's deft tracing of the choreography of our earth, sun, and moon lets us behold this awe-inspiring dance "with the eye of the mind." Dennis R. Danielson Editor of The Book of the Cosmos

About the Author
Duncan Steel is an astronomer at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, with a special interest in the dynamics of solar system objects and the effects of celestial events on ancient civilizations. His book, Rogue Asteroids and Doomsday Comets, was the first popular book on the asteroid and comet impact hazard and was the main impetus for the rash of television documentaries and Hollywood films on the subject. A native of the United Kingdom, Steel has also lived and worked in the United States, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand. He currently lives in Knutsford, England. Asteroid 4713 Steel was named for him by the International Astronomical Union.



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