A great read

Mathematician and sci-fi author Michael Flynn has put up a great multi-episode post on his blog The TOF Spot. The whole thing is titled The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown and up till now has six glorious parts (it is to be continued!). It covers the historical transition from geocentrism to heliocentrism centred around the life and time of our favourite villain Galileo Galilei. It is erudite, informative, on the whole historically accurate, beautifully illustrated, entertaining, highly amusing and totally irreverent. If you like the Renaissance Mathematicus style of history of science snark then you’ll love Mr Flynn’s treatment of the topic.

I urge all of my readers to pop on over and take your fill of the #histsci wit and wisdom of the OFloinn, as Mr Flynn coins himself.

1) The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown

2) The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown: Down for the Count

3) The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown: The Great Galileo-Scheiner Flame War of 1611-13

4) The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown: The Down ‘n Dirty Mud Wrassle

5) The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown: Here’s Mud in Yer Eye

6) The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown: Comet Creation

Disclosure: I might just possibly be accused of bias in recommending the OFloinn’s majestic take on seventeenth century astronomy history as he references about a dozen of my deathless blog posts on various aspects of the subject and has this to say about The Renaissance Mathematicus, A treasure trove!  Some items used above. However I can assure my readers that I’m totally immune to flattery (and Michael your check’s in the post).


Filed under History of Astronomy

8 responses to “A great read

  1. laura

    The bit on Nicolas Zucchi in Part 6 was really interesting: I had no idea somebody had made a semi-workable reflecting telescope before 1620 (though people were trying to make magnifiers before sundry Dutch hit on the idea of swapping out a mirror for another lens, so maybe it’s not surprising. Wasn’t a lens and mirror combination what de la Porta was describing in Natural Magic?)

    I knew Kepler asked Gulden for a telescope from the Jesuits and received one in the 20s which he used, for instance, to estimate the moon’s axial tilt. But the link Flynn provides (http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/optics/timeline/people/zucchi.html) suggests this was in fact a reflecting telescope, which I never read before and find quite amazing if true.

    • You will note that I wrote above “…on the whole historically accurate…”! The section on Zucchi and his reflecting telescope is one of the less than accurate passages. The Wikipedia article on Zucchi is more accurate.

      There is nothing unusual in Zucchi’s investigations of the reflecting telescope the principle was already known to Heron of Alexandria in the second century CE.

      • laura

        Yeah, I meant to add that the part about him observing the rings of Jupiter with his reflector seemed pretty dodgy since they weren’t formally discovered until 1979 and if he really had a telescope that good (regardless of type!) people would have known about it!

      • theofloinn

        Those were the colored bands on Jupiter that Zucchi is supposed to have seen, not the orbital rings.

        Of course, lots of people were playing around with lens-and-mirror arrangements, and Zucchi’s was presented on the optics site as being primitive and not very workable. But this raises an interesting question: Since most principles can be traced back to some far-gone era, who can actually get mentioned as an inventor? The one who proposed the principle? The one imagined that it might be done? The one who built the first half-assed attempt that sorta-kinda worked? The one who…. It’s like the “Father of X” thingie.

      • Michael got there before me on the stripes contra rings of Jupiter!
        On the subject of who exactly invented the reflecting telescope I have, not unsurprisingly written a post on the subject.

  2. ron van wegen

    Best read in years! Extraordinary! GO. NOW.

  3. theofloinn

    I am flattered that the Renaissance Mathematicus praises my modest effort as even “on the whole” accurate. I would have feared much bigger holes. I will depend on helpful comments to keep me accurate. I am only a poor, simple-minded statistician with an interest in this and that.

    • You’ve obviously put a lot of effort and research into your essay, which I’m enjoying very much. So when can we expect episode 7 or are you going to leave us with a coitus interruptus?

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