by Jean Meeus, Hardbound, 6 by 9 inches, 373 pages.
About Mathematical Astronomy Morsels IV
In his Preface to Mathematical Morsels III Jean Meeus writes: We are living in a period of important astrophysical and cosmological research. Many astronomical journals and scientific books deal with subjects such as birth and evolution of stars, black holes, dark matter, gamma-ray bursts, supernova remnants or collisions between galaxies. Of course this is important matter, but one almost seems to have forgotten the `old' astronomy, the classical, mathematical science of the sky. And yet, without this fundamental astronomy modern research on the universe new would never have been possible.
And to this Roger Sinnott responded “In his Preface the author hints that some readers might accuse him of practicing “old” astronomy. Don't let that fool you. The problems he tackles would have fascinated astronomers of the early 20 th and prior centuries, but those poor souls faced a brick wall of computational difficulty. They had to work out all their answers laboriously, with a pencil and paper. Freed, from that limitation, the author uses today's computers to address each topic with a rigor and finesse beyond the wildest dreams of any old-time practitioner.
This conversation continues in this “Morsels IV” where Jean Meeus concludes his Preface as follows: Certainly this book will not make astronomy to progress. Rather, most subjects discussed in this book belong to what might be called recreational astronomy. While making the calculations and writing the text, we felt being as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in The Hound of the Basikerville
A dabbler in science, Mr. Holes, a picker up
of shells on the shores of the great unknown ocean.
And not too far into this book he cites Maurice Ravel's Une Barque sur l'Océan (a boat at sea) piano piece as launching point into a study of when a horizon skimming Moon might look like a boat at sea. Interested? Here are 68 more subjects that have washed upon the beach of Jean Meeus ' imagination.
From the Reviews
The fourth book in this amazing series contains 370 pages of absolutely fascinating facts. All these books are written assuming an ‘appropriate astronomical background’ and as such there is no glossary. It can be read in isolation, although there are references to previous Morsels in the text. Jean’s motivation for writing this fourth volume is the same as for the previous three, and many chapters have been inspired by questions from correspondents, such as ‘can Jupiter be visible with none of its Galilean satellites visible?’ or ‘what is the longest total solar eclipse visible from Europe?’
Personally I find books of this type absolutely riveting, and frequently dip into the various volumes. I have also given talks based on some of the surprising facts discovered by Jean. For example, did you know that on 2007 Jan 1, a shadowless transit of Ganymede across Jupiter occurred? This was because the Sun, Earth, Ganymede and Jupiter were so perfectly aligned that Ganymede’s shadow was obscured by Ganymede itself. Turning this around, an observer within the shadow on Jupiter would have seen a simultaneous total solar eclipse, a transit of Ganymede across the Earth and a transit of Earth across the Sun!
One of Jean’s passions is eclipses, and it amazes me to find that he can still devote a further 115 pages to new eclipse facts. For example the 2015 total solar eclipse which he predicts (even though it shouldn’t be) will be visible from exactly the North Pole (it’s all to do with refraction of course).
Jean is a stickler for accuracy and although English is not his mother tongue, the book is remarkably free from grammatical and spelling errors. Mathematically, Jean’s results are a perfect example of how data should be presented — never using more precision than is justified, well tabulated and well explained.
I have always been intrigued to find out why, if the Earth’s rotation is slowing by 1 ten millionth of a second per day, DeltaT can amount to around 67 seconds in 100 years, and 2 hours in 1,000 years. Jean explains this admirably. But just sometimes, even Jean cannot explain his results, such as why (in our era) do total solar eclipses fall more often on a Wednesday than any other day? Also, why between 2001-2400 does the 13th of the month fall on a Friday more often than any other day?
How about this for you to try (p.357) — if you are at roughly latitude 48°N and the declination of the Sun is roughly +20° and you are living in a tall building, you could witness the rise of the Sun’s upper limb and then have time to take the lift downstairs and see the Sun rise a second time! Jean always explains his workings, and if I give away any more secrets you won’t buy the book. Also in case you think Jean has a super-powerful computer, he has an ordinary PC and all his programs are written in BASIC.
Journal of the British Astronomical Association (June, 2007)
About The Author
Jean Meeus , born in 1928, studied mathematics at the University of Louvain ( Leuven ) in Belgium , where he received the Degree of Licentiate in 1953. From then until his retirement in 1993, he was a meteorologist at Brussels Airport . His special interest is spherical and mathematical astronomy. He is a member of several astronomical associations and the author of many scientific papers. He is co-author of Canon of Solar Eclipses (1966), the Canon of Lunar Eclipses (1979) and the Canon of Solar Eclipses (1983). His Astronomical Formulae for Calculators (1979, 1982,1985 and 1988) has been widely acclaimed by both amateur and professional astronomers. Further works, published by Willmann-Bell, Inc., are Elements of Solar Eclipses 1951-2200 (1989), Transits (1989), Astronomical Algorithms (1991 and 1998), Astronomical Tables of the Sun , Moon and Planets (1983 and 1995), Mathematical Astronomy Morsels (1997), More Mathematical Astronomy Morsels (2002), and Mathematical Astronomy III (2004) . For his numerous contributions to astronomy the Inter national Astronomical Union announced in 1981 the naming of asteroid 2213 Meeus in his honor.