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Histoire de l'Astronomie

Nature volume 110, page 600 (04 November 1922) | Download Citation



IN his first chapter the author passes in review the principal works on the history of astronomy, beginning with Weidler's book and ending with the great work by Duhem on the cosmical systems. Of.the valuable books of Grant and R. Wolf, only the titles are given, and several others are omitted altogether. Of monographs, only Schiaparelli's first two papers are mentioned. This is natural enough, since there is plenty of evidence that the author is quite unacquainted with the rich literature of memoirs and short papers on the history of astronomy which has appeared within the last fifty years. Whenever a fact is not mentioned by Delambre, Duhem, etc., it will be looked for in vain in M. Doublet's pages, and whenever fresh light has been thrown on any subject since they wrote, he is not aware of it. Take, for example, the paragraph on Hipparchus. We are told that his diopter was in the Middle Ages called a Jacob's staff; in reality the former had a cursor with a round hole in it, and was used only for measuring small angles such as the diameters of sun or moon, while the latter was shaped like a cross, with the shorter arm movable (on p. I52 the invention of the baculus is correctly attributed to Levi ben Gerson of Avignon, as Duhem had also done). The star of Hipparchus is compared to the new star of 1572, whereas there can be no doubt that it was nothing but the comet of 134 B.c. The star-catalogue of Hipparchus is said to contain 1025 stars and to have been handed down to us by Ptolemy, but it has been shown by Boll that the catalogue probably contained only about 850 stars, while it is now universally recognised that Ptolemy's catalogue is not a mere reproduction of that of Hipparchus. Next it is stated that Hip parchus put the solar parallax equal to 3′; it was Ptolemy who did that, whereas Hipparchus said that it was at most a minute and a half. On the same page we read that Hipparchus determined the principal lunar inequalities with admirable precision. Hipparchus knew only one inequality, the equation of the centre; but that is, perhaps, a slip, as it is elsewhere (p. 110) mentioned that Ptolemy discovered the evection.

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