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Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy

By: Barbara J Becker

380 pages, 45 b/w photos & illustrations

Cambridge University Press

Hardback | Feb 2011 | #192849 | ISBN-13: 9781107002296
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £103.00 $135/€117 approx

About this book

Challenging traditional accounts of the origins of astrophysics, this book presents the first scholarly biography of nineteenth-century English amateur astronomer William Huggins (1824-1910). A pioneer in adapting the spectroscope to new astronomical purposes, William Huggins rose to scientific prominence in London and transformed professional astronomy to become a principal founder of the new science of astrophysics. The author re-examines his life and career, exploring unpublished notebooks, correspondence and research projects to expose the boldness of this scientific entrepreneur. While Sir William Huggins is the main focus of the book, the involvement of Lady Margaret Lindsay Huggins (1848-1915) in her husband's research is examined, where it may have been previously overlooked or obscured. Written in an engaging style, this book has broad appeal and will be valuable to scientists, students and anyone interested in the history of astronomy.


1. Introduction
2. '... the astronomer ... must come to the chemist'
3. The young observer
4. 'A sudden impulse ...'
5. The riddle of the nebulae
6. Moving in the inner circle
7. Stellar motion along the line of sight
8. A new telescope
9. Solar observatories
10. An able assistant
11. Photographing the solar corona
12. A scientific lady
13. Foes and allies
14. The new astronomy
15. 'One true mistress'
16. Conclusion


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Barbara Becker taught history of science at the University of California, Irvine, until her recent retirement. Her research interests include the role of the amateur in the development of nineteenth-century professional astronomy, the redefining of disciplinary boundaries in the face of new knowledge and new practice, and the role of controversy in shaping the substance and structure of scientific knowledge.

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