Mathematical Astronomy for Amateurs
By Jean Meeus, 6. Every time two full moons occur in the same month, pundits in the media take note. The fabled blue moon, meaning any rare or unusual occurrence, dates back at least years in the English language. The link to lunar phases in a calendar month is quite recent.
Hiscock traces it to an obscure children's book published in , followed the next year by a question card in the game of Trivial Pursuit!
Are we in danger of a tidal wave or a massive earthquake? Pop-culture obsessions like these do not originate in the magazines for amateur astronomers, let alone in scientific journals or textbooks. But they say something important about our society.
Here we have naive but sincere people, whose astronomical curiosity has been stirred for perhaps the first time in their lives. Their interest will soon wane unless a teacher, commentator, or writer they respect can step in with a meaningful response.
Even worse, their end-of-the-world fears may escalate. Jean Meeus's latest book explores the frequency of blue moons, planetary groupings, and a great deal more, as only this master of astronomical calculations could. He has brought together these and other tidbits from his voluminous writings, spanning nearly half a century, on every sort of celestial configuration, cycle, and curiosity.
His wide following in America can now enjoy these penetrating analyses, many of which originally appeared only in Europe.
The collection is much more than mere anthology. Each conclusion has been checked, and virtually every numerical result calculated afresh, with all the rigor we have come to expect. For example, he investigates how often a bright star or planet is occulted by the moon during a total lunar eclipse.
He looks at how many times per century Jupiter can appear "without a visible moon," all the Galilean satellites being either in front of the disk, behind it, or in eclipse. He goes on to examine another elusive event, one that the English amateur Horace Dall was lucky enough to photograph with his inch reflector on April the shadow of not one, not two, but three satellites crossing Jupiter's disk at once! This book lists the occasions when we, too, can hope to witness something similar during our lifetimes.
The detection of patterns and cycles is a theme pursued throughout.
Most readers have probably heard about the Saros in connection with solar eclipses, or the eight-year cycle of Venus risings that is a cornerstone of the Maya calendar. But here we find evidence for the half Saros about days , for which the author proposes the name Sar. A mysterious year period also emerges among the lunar eclipses.
It is so long a span that a few writers have fallen into a statistical trap. Using data for the entire 20th and 21st centuries, they have concluded that total lunar eclipses are more common than partial ones. As Jean Meeus demonstrates with his beautiful diagram of eclipse clumps page , the opposite is true over the long haul.
Many celestial cycles are fleeting, destined to fade away after a few iterations as others overlap them or start up afresh. It is a fallacy to think that you can recreate planetary motions for many years by spinning back or fast-forwarding a planetarium projector.
Only someone with a profound grasp of astronomical motions and relationships could have produced an authoritative book like this. Some readers will see here an antidote to the claims of astrology. Others will gain a deep insight into the misuse of statistics, especially in such areas as the sunspot cycle and its relation to weather on Earth.
But all of us can acquire plenty of ammunition to settle bets at star parties, test computer programs, and amaze our friends or an astronomy professor with some little-known surprises about the sky and calendar. So why exactly does Christmas fall more often on a Tuesday than on a Monday? How many centuries will elapse before 10 successive Easters occur in April?
What is the reason that total solar eclipses are more common for observers in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern? Turn these pages, and you'll find out! When is the Northern Limit the Southern One?
A Periodicity of Years? How Often are the Planets Aligned? Statistics: Danger! Jean Meeus, born in , studied mathematics at the University of Louvain Leuven in Belgium, where he received the Degree of Licentiate in From them until his retirement in , he was a meteorologist at Brussels Airport.
Catalog Record: Mathematical astronomy morsels | Hathi Trust Digital Library
His special interest is spherical and mathematical astronomy. He is a member of several astronomical associations and the author of many scientific papers.
His Astronomical Formulae for Calculators , , and has been widely acclaimed by both amateur and professional astronomers. Further works, published by Willmann-Bell, Inc.
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For his numerous contributions to astronomy the International Astronomical Union announced in the naming of asteroid Meeus in his honor. Note: Activation requires a response to an email that we will send to this address. Other "Morsels" by Jean Meeus. From The Foreword Every time two full moons occur in the same month, pundits in the media take note.
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