In In Search of the True Universe astrophysicist and scholar Martin Harwit examines how our understanding of the Cosmos advanced rapidly during the twentieth century and identifies the factors contributing to this progress. Astronomy, whose tools were largely imported from physics and engineering, benefited mid-century from the U.S. policy of coupling basic research with practical national priorities. This strategy, initially developed for military and industrial purposes, provided astronomy with powerful tools yielding access – at virtually no cost – to radio, infrared, X-ray, and gamma-ray observations.
Today, astronomers are investigating the new frontiers of dark matter and dark energy, critical to understanding the Cosmos but of indeterminate socio-economic promise. Harwit addresses these current challenges in view of competing national priorities and proposes alternative new approaches in search of the true Universe. In Search of the True Universe is an engaging read for astrophysicists, policy makers, historians, and sociologists of science looking to learn and apply lessons from the past in gaining deeper cosmological insight.
1. The nineteenth century's last five years
Part I. The Import of Theoretical Tools
2. An overview
3. Conclusions based on principles
4. Conclusions based on a premise
5. Conclusions based on calculations
6. Asking the right questions, accepting limited answers
Part II. A National Plan Shaping the Universe We Perceive
7. A new order and the new universe it produced
8. Where did the chemical elements arise?
10. The evolution of astrophysical theory after 1960
11. Turmoils of leadership
12. Cascades and shocks that shape astrophysics
13. Astrophysical discourse and persuasion
Part III. The Cost of Discerning the True Universe
14. Organization and functioning of the astronomical community
15. Language and astrophysical stability
16. An economically viable astronomical program
Martin Harwit is Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at Cornell University. For many years he also served as Director of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. For much of his astrophysical career he built instruments and made pioneering observations in infrared astronomy. His advanced textbook, Astrophysical Concepts, has taught several generations of astronomers through its four editions. Harwit has had an abiding interest in how science advances or is constrained by factors beyond the control of scientists. His book Cosmic Discovery first raised these questions. The present volume explores how philosophical outlook, historical precedents, industrial progress, economic factors, and national priorities have affected our understanding of the Cosmos. Harwit is a recipient of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's highest honor, the Bruce Medal, which commends "his original ideas, scholarship, and thoughtful advocacy."