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.
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!
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
The real life story of how Newton defined gravity, how astronomers used his theory to find new planets, and how the search for the planet Vulcan, supposedly located between the sun and Mercury and which had nothing to do with the fictional Star Trek planet, led to Einstein redefining gravity and coming up with the theory of relativity.
I'm not well versed in science, other than high school (more than four decades ago), but this is an absolutely fascinating examination of how science works, via a particular case study of the search for new planets and the theory of gravity. When a scientific theory fails, there are two routes forward -- declare the science invalid, or seek to identify unknowns that reaffirm or redefine the science.
The Hunt for Vulcan cut both ways. Anomalies in Newton's calculations with respect to the orbits of the outer planets could have led to his theory being discredited, but a French astronomer instead searched for unknown factors and ended up discovering the planet Neptune (in theory -- someone else observed the newly identified planet in fact, using those theoretical calculations).
An anomaly in Mercury's orbit led the same astronomer to theorize the existence of another planet closer to the sun, triggering a search for Vulcan, as the phantom planet was dubbed. But this time the theory failed, and it took Einstein and his theory of relativity to prove that Newton's theory was indeed inadequate. But Einstein did not merely discredit Newton, he revised his theory of gravity in a way that worked (and still does).
Short, snappy, accessible to non-scientists, this is an excellent listen. Go for it, you will not be disappointed.
This book and it's narration are top-notch! Great find. Wonderful description of Special Relativity. Lively character portrayal and coherent development and theme. Loved it.
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