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.
"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)
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This is great stuff!
- Mark A. Hurt
Wonderful, Story of the Planet that never was.
- Jerry Paul Whitt