Seeing and Believing: How the Telescope Opened Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens

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9780140280616: Seeing and Believing: How the Telescope Opened Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens

A concise look at the impact of the advent of the telescope on the way humans view the universe and their place in it focuses on the visionaries, beginning with Galileo, who created and perfected it.

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Review:

Journalist Richard Panek begins his historical essay on the telescope with the Hubble Deep Field. This extended exposure by space telescope is a picture that looks out of our galaxy--farther, immeasurably farther, than the human eye has seen before. It exemplifies the purpose of all telescopes: "To address our place in the universe, literally. To size up all of space and figure out where we are in it." How and why did this particular technology have such profound effects?

Panek first considers Galileo, who "raised his new instrument toward the night sky and understood at once that there was more to see--and more to seeing--than meets the eye.... Unlike spectacles or magnifying lenses, the optic tube offered not just a distortion of what was already there, but more. It revealed evidence that was different from what the naked eye could see, evidence that wasn't otherwise there." Panek goes on to look at the, ahem, luminaries of observational astronomy--William Herschel, George Ellery Hale, Edwin Hubble--showing how faith in the telescope grew and our mental image of the universe expanded until "all the assumptions safely based on observation are gone." Panek's prose is vivid and beautiful, sustaining this (curiously) unillustrated book as it traces the astronomer's quest for light and dark, sight and belief. --Mary Ellen Curtin

About the Author:

Richard Panek has written about astronomy and science for the New York Times, Natural History, Esquire, and Outside. He is also a PEN Award-winning fiction writer whose short stories have appeared in Ploughshares and on National Public Radio. He lives in New York City.

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