The captivating, all-but-forgotten story of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and the search for a planet that never existed
For more than 50 years, the world's top scientists searched for the "missing" planet Vulcan, whose existence was mandated by Isaac Newton's theories of gravity. Countless hours were spent on the hunt for the elusive orb, and some of the era's most skilled astronomers even claimed to have found it.
There was just one problem: It was never there.
In The Hunt for Vulcan, Thomas Levenson follows the visionary scientists who inhabit the story of the phantom planet, starting with Isaac Newton, who, in 1687, provided an explanation for all matter in motion throughout the universe, leading to Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier, who, almost two centuries later, built on Newton's theories and discovered Neptune, becoming the most famous scientist in the world. Le Verrier attempted to surpass that triumph by predicting the existence of yet another planet in our solar system: Vulcan.
It took Albert Einstein to discern that the mystery of the missing planet was a problem not of measurements or math but of Newton's theory of gravity itself. Einstein's general theory of relativity proved that Vulcan did not and could not exist and that the search for it had merely been a quirk of operating under the wrong set of assumptions about the universe. Levenson tells the previously untold tale of how the "discovery" of Vulcan in the 19th century set the stage for Einstein's monumental breakthrough, the greatest individual intellectual achievement of the 20th century.
A dramatic human story of an epic quest, The Hunt for Vulcan offers insight into how science really advances (as opposed to the way we're taught about it in school) and how the best work of the greatest scientists reveals an artist's sensibility. Opening a new window onto our world, Levenson illuminates some of our most iconic ideas as he recounts one of the strangest episodes in the history of science.
©2015 Thomas Levenson (P)2015 Audible, Inc.
"The forgotten story of Vulcan could no longer remain untold. Levenson tells us where it came from, how it vanished, and why its spirit lurks today. Along the way, we learn more than a bit of just how science works - when it succeeds as well as when it fails." (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
"This delightful and enlightening drama tells the story of the hunt for a planet that did not exist and how Einstein resolved the mystery with the most beautiful theory in the history of science. The Hunt for Vulcan is an inspiring tale about the quest for discovery and the challenges and joys of understanding our universe." (Walter Isaacson)
"The Hunt for Vulcan is equal to the best science writing I’ve read anywhere, by any author. Beautifully composed, rich in historical context, deeply researched, it is, above all, great storytelling. Levenson gives a true picture of the scientific enterprise, with all its good and bad guesses, wishful thinking, passion, human ego, and desire to know and understand this strange and magnificent cosmos we find ourselves in.” (Alan Lightman, author of The Accidental Universe)
This is a book for general audiences interested in the history of science -- more at the underlying thinking behind the math. This is told as a "true" tale, which it is. It is read well, and the performance is captivating. Listen to it by the fire over the holidays; you won't regret it.
Great story about the false Planet Vulcan (Unless you count Star Trek) .. This story shows the tendency of people to wish something so much, they make it true even of it not.
A from-the-trenches view of scientific enquiry that shows how passion and belief play essential but problematic roles in the process of discovery. And how scientists struggle with self-doubt and frustration and hubris, just like the rest of us. I really enjoyed the clear descriptions of the science, in part because they showed how scientists struggled with the accuracy of their equipment, as well as with the math and with the concepts themselves. Inevitably I struggled with the relativity chapter--maybe someday it will make sense to me...? It bends the mind like a ray of light passing a gravity well.
Loved it from Chapter 1. Highly recommend it to anyone with even a remote interest in Astronomy.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
When I hear about the planet Vulcan I think of Mr. Spock. I enjoyed this book as it provided a quick review of Einstein and his work. It has been awhile since I have read anything about Einstein.
In the 19th century they believed that near Mercury was the planet Vulcan. Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation and how it governed the orbits of planets is discussed by the author and how it related to Vulcan. Levenson outlines the long search for Vulcan ending with Albert Einstein’s journey to the theory of relativity. Einstein applied the theory to the Mercury question and the existence of the phantom planet. Levenson detailed his talk at the Prussian Academy of Science on November 18, 1915 in Berlin, where he destroyed Vulcan and re-imagined the cosmos.
The book is well written and researched. Levenson has the ability to make complex ideas into easy to understand language. Thomas Levenson is the head of MIT’s graduate program in science writing. If you are interested in the history of science and astronomy you will enjoy this short book.
Kevin Pariseau does an excellent job narrating the book. Pariseau is a Broadway stage actor and also has performed in musicals. Like many stage actors Pariseau narrates audiobooks.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Thomas Levenson offers a vignette of history on the methodology and adventure of scientific discovery. Scientific discoveries are rarely hit upon in a linear fashion. Discovery comes from study of natural phenomena that frequently reveal the unexpected. None can deny the brilliant and insightful discovery of the laws of motion and gravity by Isaac Newton. Among great science discoverers, none seem to achieve the utilitarian application of science more than Newton. At least for those who view earth as the primary laboratory of science.
Then comes Albert Einstein. Newton’s laws of gravity and motion work beautifully for practical application on earth. However, Newton’s laws of motion and gravity are error prone when applied to the universe. Einstein revolutionizes Newton’s laws of gravity and motion by discovering the relativity of time, mass, and energy. With theories of special and general relativity, the universe becomes the laboratory of science.
The methodology of science becomes refined by the mathematics of Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation and further defined by Einstein’s laws of relativity. It is Newton’s laws that lead to Le Verrier’s mathematical recognition of Neptune. But, it is also Newton’s laws that lead to Le Verrier’s mistake about the planet Vulcan. The misstep of finding a false planet is confirmed by Einstein’s discovery of a fault in Newton’s laws. Le Verrier’s statistical analysis leads to one observed and confirmed planet, and one falsely sighted planet. The point being–Newton’s limited theories of motion and gravity lead to science’s revision and a new avenue of discovery for natural phenomena.
One presumes there is a new Newton or a new Einstein in the world’s future because it is the nature of science to continually renew itself with a more comprehensive understanding of the universes we live in. There is no foreseeable end to science except in the extinction of humanity. One hopes human science and evolution keep pace with earth’s environmental change.
This book was amazing in that it had the most useful and simple explanation of Einstein's work, and specifically the interactions of light, gravity and space-time. The historical look at the scientific process used to 'find Vulcan' was fascinating. Highly recommended
All scientific history should be this interesting, but this book is a good listen even if you are not into science or history. I really enjoyed it and learned some things along the way - love the bit about Thomas Edison.
Bonus I got this as a Daily Deal
As a science amateur I am passionate about learning about the theory of relativity but have never really understood it. I still don't understand it, but this book was a very fun read about how it came to be. I was very entertained and I didn't feel my mind wandering at all (it wasn't boring). It was very well read without being dramatic. Overall I was very pleased with this purchase!
Fascinating look into a pivotal period of scientific discovery. Scientific explanations were clear and concise. Highly recommended!
Report Inappropriate Content