Archives for category: History

The Renaissance Mathematicus

There is a type of supporter of gnu atheism and/or scientism who takes a very black and white attitude to the definition of science and also to the history of science. For these people, and there are surprisingly many of them, theories are either right, and thus scientific, and help the progress of science or wrong, and thus not scientific, and hinder that progress. Of course from the point of view of the historian this attitude or stand point is one than can only be regarded with incredulity, as our gnu atheist proponent of scientism dismisses geocentrism, the phlogiston theory and Lamarckism as false and thus to be dumped in the trash can of history whilst acclaiming Copernicus, Lavoisier and Darwin as gods of science who led as out the valley of ignorance into the sunshine of rational thought.

I have addressed this situation before on more than one occasion…

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[UPDATE Aug 2015: ‘1500 Miles an hour’ is now available as a free ebook at Project Gutenberg, many thanks to]

Among the one million book images the British Library have released on Flickr are a set of fantastic illustrations by Arthur Layard from 1500 MILES AN HOUR, an early “scientific romance” by author Charles Dixon. The novel features a manned space flight from the earth to Mars and was published in London in 1895, two years before THE WAR OF THE WORLDS featured a Martian invasion in the other direction. In 1896, a brief review of 1500 MILES in London’s Spectator magazine compared the story to the scientific romances of Verne and Poe, but scoffed at the idea of going to Mars:

“Mr. Dixon’s narrative is serious, as far as journeys to Mars and such things can be serious. We must own to a preference for having the marvellous kept within terrestrial limits.”

1500 MILES AN HOUR (66MB pdf) is the story of 4 men and a dog who travel to Mars on a spacecraft – the Sirius – designed and built by “Doctor Hermann FRS, FRAS, FRGS”. Dr Hermann has discovered that the space between planets is not airless but filled with a rarefied atmosphere that can be traversed with electric propellers, driven by a petroleum fuel-cell of his own devising. He estimates the trip will take two and a half years at top speed.


First, as to my means of conveyance. I have here a design for an air carriage, propelled by electricity, capable of being steered in any direction, and of attaining the stupendous speed of fifteen hundred miles per hour. It can be made large enough to afford all necessary accommodation for at least six persons, and its attendant apparatus is capable of administering to their every requirement. Here is a model of the machine. You will perceive that the material of which it is composed is no metal in common use, nor is its composition, and the method of its manufacture, known to any mortal man but myself. It is remarkable for its extreme lightness, toughness,and power of withstanding heat. Wrought-iron melts at something like 4,500 degrees Fahrenheit ;my metal will stand a fiery ordeal three times as great. This is of the utmost importance, for our high rate of speed would soon generate sufficient heat to melt any but the most enduring substance.

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On a clear night in the Southern Hemisphere the sky is filled by the brightest parts of the Milky Way and the prominent dark nebula named the Great Rift, a veil of interstellar cloud drawn across the Milky Way itself for almost a third of the sky from Cygnus to Centaurus. The Great Rift is most visible where it contrasts with the bright hub of our galaxy near the constellation Sagittarius.


The Great Rift is formed by overlapping clouds of cosmic dust about 300 light years distant between our own Orion Arm of the galaxy and the Sagittarius Arm, the next spiral arm inwards towards the galactic centre. The visible gap between the bright spiral arms isn’t empty – the darker dust clouds are some of the densest parts of the galaxy and make up around half of its mass.

2015-07-07 15_03_53-Artist's conception of the Milky Way annotated with arms, and galactic longitude

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From: The Renaissance Mathematicus”:

At the beginning of the month physicist and popular science writer, Paul Halpern posted the following tweet:

“Kepler’s remarkable Somnium, one of the 1st sci-fi stories, later used as evidence in his mother’s witchcraft trial”

Now knowing a thing or two about Kepler’s Johannes and his more than bizarre life, I’ve even written a post on the witchcraft trial, I tweeted back:

It wasn’t used as evidence in his mother’s trial

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Roger Launius's Blog

Where did the solar system come from? Why and how? What accounts for its evolution over time? Those questions have plagued scientists, philosophers, theologians, and other thinkers from the point where humanity first realized that Earth was part of a large system of bodies all interacting with each other. It is also a subject I have been considering of late. Is anyone aware of a definitive work on this subject that can explain the evolution over time of this theme in the history of science?

The first attempts to explain in naturalistic terms the origins of the solar system some 500 years ago may seem rudimentary by today’s standards, but current explanations remain incomplete and some of their elements may well prove naïve as future scientists continue to investigate this subject. During the space age intensive efforts resulted in a revolution in knowledge gained about the solar system.

Using data newly…

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The Renaissance Mathematicus

When I was growing up in the dim and distant twentieth century spin-off was one of the most frequently used buzz words in the public discussion of science and technology; a spin-off being an unintended and unexpected positive product of scientific or technological research. Politicians would use the term to justify high levels of expenditure on political prestige projects claiming that the voters/taxpayers would benefit through the spin-offs from the research. The example that was almost always quoted by the media was that the non-stick coating for frying pans was a spin-off from the space programme. This is, like many popular stories in the history of science and technology, actually a myth but that is not the subject of this post.

Now spin-offs are not a modern phenomenon but have been turning up ever since humans first began hammering bits of stone to make tools and as the title of…

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