History of science


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Planetary System. Eclipse of the Sun. The Moon. The Zodiacal Light. Meteoric Shower. From Yaggy’s Geographical Study, 1887. Courtesy the David Rumsey Map Collection

Essay/
History of science
Naming the Universe

How the quick thinking of internationally-minded astronomers avoided stamping the solar system with petty European rivalries

Stephen Case

Colourised photographs taken using the schlieren technique depict for the first time the shockwaves of two supersonic jets, typically heard on the ground as the sonic boom. Photo courtesy NASA

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Thinkers and theories
Before, now, and next

Pastness, presentness and futurity seem to be real features of the world, but are they? On McTaggart’s philosophy of time

Emily Thomas

At the European Southern Observatory, La Silla, Chile. Photo courtesy Alan Fitzsimmons/ESO

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Cosmology
Fate of the Universe

Are we part of a dying reality or a blip in eternity? The value of the Hubble Constant could tell us which terror awaits

Corey S Powell

The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (c1615) by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens. Early supporters of the Royal Society, founded in 1660, commonly spoke in theological terms about the new science recapturing a lost, pre-Fall human dominion over nature. Courtesy the Mauritshuis, the Hague, Netherlands

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History of science
Reformation of science

Protestantism didn’t hold back science – it revolutionised its methods, its theoretical content and its social significance

Peter Harrison

Parallax (Candles) (1951). Courtesy the Estate of Berenice Abbott/Getty Images

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Philosophy of science
But is it science?

Theoretical physicists who say the multiverse exists set a dangerous precedent: science based on zero empirical evidence

Jim Baggott

Photo courtesy ESA/Hubble/NASA, Fillipenko, Jansen

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Quantum theory
Splitting the Universe

Hugh Everett blew up quantum mechanics with his Many-Worlds theory in the 1950s. Physics is only just catching up

Sean Carroll

‘Hume’s philosophy of time shows the fundamental relevance of the relation between an observer and a reference object.’  Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times/Getty

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History of science
No absolute time

Two centuries before Einstein, Hume recognised that universal time, independent of an observer’s viewpoint, doesn’t exist

Matias Slavov

Photo by Thomas Hoepker/Magnum

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Neuroscience
Human magnetism

For centuries, people have navigated the globe using instruments. But what if the Earth itself can help us feel our way?

Philip Jaekl

Photo by Orbon Alija/Getty Images

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Mathematics
Social physics

Despite the vagaries of free will and circumstance, human behaviour in bulk is far more predictable than we like to imagine

Ian Stewart

Warships in a Heavy Storm (c1695), by Ludolf Bakhuysen. Courtesy Rijksmusuem, Amsterdam

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History of science
When pirates studied Euclid

How did the sailors of early modern Europe learn to traverse the world’s seas? By going to school and doing maths problems

Margaret Schotte

The 29 May 1919 solar eclipse taken by the British astronomer Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), confirmed Einstein's theory of general relativity. The stars near the Sun appear slightly shifted because their light is curved by its gravitational field. Príncipe Island, Gulf of Guinea. Royal Astronomical Society/Science Photo Library

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History of science
Curving the Universe

A century ago, a team of scientists chased the arc of starlight across a total eclipse to prove Einstein right on relativity

Matthew Stanley

Man of Science (1839), artist unknown. American. Courtesy the National Gallery of Art, Washington

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History of science
Natural philosophy redux

The great split between science and philosophy must be repaired. Only then can we answer the urgent, fundamental problems

Nicholas Maxwell

Prizes for the 2010 Nobel Prize winners are seen before the award ceremony at the Concert Hall in Stockholm, Sweden, 10 December 2010. Photo by Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

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Physics
Time to update the Nobels

Science today is an intricate, collaborative, global enterprise. Nobel prizes for individual scientists are an anachronism

Brian Keating

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society (1831) by Edward Landseer. ‘Bob’ a Newfoundland dog, saved 23 persons from drowning on the London docks and was made a distinguished member of the Royal Humane Society. Courtesy Wikipedia

Mount Fox and Mount Dawson from Asulkan Pass, Selkirk mountain range, British Columbia (1902). Courtesy Library of Congress

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History of science
How to make mountains

In living memory, geologists believed that the Earth was slowly shrivelling, little guessing how vibrantly alive it truly is

Marcia Bjornerud

‘...the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres’ – Ludwig Wittgenstein. Photo by Getty

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Philosophy of science
Getting it right

Truth is neither absolute nor timeless. But the pursuit of truth remains at the heart of the scientific endeavour

Michela Massimi