Darkness at Night: A Riddle of the Universe

Darkness at Night: A Riddle of the Universe

by Edward Harrison


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Why is the sky dark at night?

The answer to this ancient and celebrated riddle, says Edward Harrison, seems relatively simple: the sun has set and is now shining on the other side of the earth. But suppose we were space travelers and far from any star. Out in the depths of space the heavens would be dark, even darker than the sky seen from the earth on cloudless and moonless nights. For more than four centuries, astronomers and other investigators have pondered the enigma of a dark sky and proposed many provocative but incorrect answers. Darkness at Night eloquently describes the misleading trails of inquiry and strange ideas that have abounded in the quest for a solution.

In tracing this story of discovery—one of the most intriguing in the history of science—astronomer and physicist Harrison explores the concept of infinite space, the structure and age of the universe, the nature of light, and other subjects that once were so perplexing. He introduces a range of stellar intellects, from Democritus in the ancient world to Digges in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, followed by Kepler, Newton, Halley, Chéseaux, Olbers, Poe, Kelvin, and Bondi.

Harrison’s style is engaging, incisive yet poetic, and his strong grasp of history—from the Greeks to the twentieth century—adds perspective, depth, and scope to the narrative. Richly illustrated and annotated, this book will delight and enlighten both the casual reader and the serious inquirer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674192713
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 01/01/1989
Series: Riddle of the Universe
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 301
Product dimensions: 0.64(w) x 6.14(h) x 9.21(d)

About the Author

Edward Harrison was Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Table of Contents


1. Why Is the Sky Dark at Night?

I The Riddle Begins

2. Three Rival Systems

3. Celestial Light

4. The Starry Message

II The Riddle Develops

5. The Cartesian System

6. Newton's Needles and Halley's Shells

7. A Forest of Stars

8. The Misty Forest

9. Worlds on Worlds

10. Revelations of Chaos

III The Riddle Continues

11. The Fractal Universe

12. The Visible Universe

13. The Golden Walls of Edgar Allan Poe

14. Lord Kelvin Sees the Light

15. Ether Voids, Curved Space, and a Midnight Sun

16. The Expanding Universe

17. The Cosmic Redshift

18. Energy in the Universe


Proposed Solutions to the Riddle of Darkness at Night


1. Digges on the Infinity of the Universe

2. Halley on the Infinity of the Sphere of Stars

3. Chéseaux Explains the Riddle of Darkness

4. Olbers Revives the Riddle of Darkness

5. Kelvin on an Old and Celebrated Hypothesis




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