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Discovery and Classification in Astronomy: Controversy and Consensus

By: Steven J Dick(Author)

400 pages, 60 b/w illustrations

Cambridge University Press

Hardback | Oct 2013 | #204696 | ISBN-13: 9781107033610
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £35.99 $46 / €41 approx

About this book

Astronomical discovery involves more than detecting something previously unseen. The reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006, and the controversy it generated, shows that discovery is a complex and ongoing process – one comprising various stages of research, interpretation and understanding.

Ranging from Galileo's observation of Jupiter's satellites, Saturn's rings and star clusters, to Herschel's nebulae and the modern discovery of quasars and pulsars, Steven J. Dick's comprehensive history, Discovery and Classification in Astronomy, identifies the concept of 'extended discovery' as the engine of progress in astronomy.

Discovery and Classification in Astronomy traces more than 400 years of telescopic observation, exploring how the signal discoveries of new astronomical objects relate to and inform one another, and why controversies such as Pluto's reclassification are commonplace in the field. Discovery and Classification in Astronomy is complete with a detailed classification system for known classes of astronomical objects, offering students, researchers and amateur observers a valuable reference and guide.

"A highly accessible collection of narrative case studies that explore how the discipline of astronomy has gone about detecting new classes of phenomena .and then has decided if, indeed, these new classes are in fact new, or whether they are actually variations or extremes of previously known classes. The bold ambition of the book, to craft a systematic hierarchical classification of all astronomical phenomena, to aid in forming and reforming taxonomies for future discoveries of new astronomical phenomena is, indeed, a goal that should be of great interest to scientists, historians, sociologists and philosophers."
– David H. DeVorkin, National Air and Space Museum

"In challenging widely accepted ideas about the nature of scientific discovery Steven J. Dick has written a bold and compelling book that will surely prove to be one of the most important works in the history of astronomy published in recent years. It is both an account of observational astronomy since the early seventeenth century as well as a deeply thought out and highly original investigation of the notions of discovery and classification in astronomy."
– Robert Smith, University of Alberta

"Astronomy is an observational science so astronomers don't do experiments. They only observe, gather data, classify, interpret, define, and perhaps understand. Building on the foundation established by Martin Harwit more than thirty years ago, Steven J. Dick articulates an fascinating tale of discoveries, missed discoveries, and rediscoveries, explaining the unappreciated but nevertheless often significant role of luck, culture, sociology, and the importance of a firm and unambiguous recognized statement or claim of discovery. Discovery and Classification in Astronomy weaves the tortuous path between discovery and classification including the impact of recognizing or even merely defining or renaming celestial bodies or phenomena so vividly illustrated by the unexpected emotional public as well as professional controversy over the 2006 IAU re-classification which downgraded Pluto to a seemingly lowly 'dwarf planet' status."
– Ken Kellermann, National Radio Astronomy Observatory


Introduction: the natural history of the heavens and the natural history of discovery

Part I. Entree
1. The Pluto affair

Part II. Narratives of Discovery
2. Moons, rings, and asteroids: discovery in the realm of the planets
3. In Herschel's gardens: nebulous discoveries in the realm of the stars
4. Dwarfs, giants, and planets (again!): the discovery of the stars themselves
5. Galaxies, quasars, and clusters: discovery in the realm of the galaxies

Part III. Patterns of Discovery
6. The structure of discovery
7. The varieties of discovery
8. Discovery and classification

Part IV. Drivers of Discovery
9. Technology and theory as drivers of discovery

Part V. The Synthesis of Discovery
10. Luxuriant gardens and the master narrative
11. The meaning of discovery

Appendix I
Appendix II

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Steven J. Dick served as the NASA Chief Historian from 2003 to 2009 and was the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace at the National Air and Space Museum from 2011 to 2012. He has worked as both an astronomer and historian of science. Minor planet 6544 Stevendick is named in his honor.

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