Cover image for Sky and ocean joined : the U.S. Naval Observatory, 1830-2000
Sky and ocean joined : the U.S. Naval Observatory, 1830-2000
Dick, Steven J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, U.K. ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Physical Description:
xiii, 609 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
Prelude. Perspectives and problems: the nation, the navy, the stars -- PART I. The founding era, 1830-65 -- From depot to national observatory, 1830-46 -- Choice of roles: the Maury years, 1844-61 -- Foundations of the American Nautical Almanac Office, 1849-65 -- Gilliss and the Civil-War years -- PART II. The golden era, 1866-93 -- Scientific life and work -- Asaph Hall, the Great Refractor, and the moons of Mars -- William Harkness and the transits of Venus of 1874 and 1882 -- Simon Newcomb and his work -- PART III. The twentieth century -- Observatory circle: a new site and administrative challges for the twentieth century -- Space: the astronomy of position and its uses -- Time: a service for the world -- Navigation: from stars to satellites.
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Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library QB82.U62 U553 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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As one of the oldest scientific institutions in the United States, the US Naval Observatory has a rich and colourful history. This volume is, first and foremost, a story of the relations between space, time and navigation, from the rise of the chronometer in the United States to the Global Positioning System of satellites, for which the Naval Observatory provides the time to a billionth of a second per day. It is a story of the history of technology, in the form of telescopes, lenses, detectors, calculators, clocks and computers over 170 years. It describes how one scientific institution under government and military patronage has contributed, through all the vagaries of history, to almost two centuries of unparalleled progress in astronomy. Sky and Ocean Joined will appeal to historians of science, technology, scientific institutions and American science, as well as astronomers, meteorologists and physicists.

Author Notes

Steven J. Dick has worked as an astronomer and historian of science at the U. S. Naval Observatory since 1979

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In gazing at the horizon, one always sees that point where the sky appears to join the ocean. Dick (astronomer and historian of science, US Naval Observatory) provides a blend of astronomy and the Navy in this intriguing intellectual history of the Observatory, from founding in 1830 to 2000. He explores the history of astronomy, the history of science in the US, and the role that the US Navy's need to improve navigation played in the development of the nation's first astronomical observatory. Dick chronologically divides the 170-year time span into three main sections: the "Founding Era" follows the founding of the first permanent Depot of Charts and Instruments and the later establishment of the first National Observatory; the "Golden Era" chronicles discoveries and advances made in the field of astronomy from 1866 to 1893; and the "Twentieth Century" begins with the Observatory's move to its present site in 1893 and continues to explore the sky and the ocean from the turn of the century on through the space age. Extensively researched over 15 years, this book is well written and well documented with footnotes, select bibliographic essays, appendixes, and indexes. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; lower- and upper-division undergraduates; faculty; professionals. C. S. McCoy University of South Florida

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. viii
Abbreviationsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
Prelude: Perspectives and problems: The nation, the Navy, the starsp. 5
1. History of astronomyp. 5
2. History of science in Americap. 12
3. Navigation and the U.S. Navyp. 15
Part I The founding era, 1830-65
Chapter 1 From Depot to National Observatory, 1830-46p. 27
1.1 Origins: Goldsborough and the G Street Depotp. 28
1.2 Struggle: Wilkes and the Capitol Hill Observatoryp. 38
1.3 Success: Gilliss and a permanent observatoryp. 44
Chapter 2 A choice of roles: the Maury years, 1844-61p. 60
2.1 The setting: Site, building, and instrumentsp. 62
2.2 Settling in: Maury and his staff in the formative years, 1844-49p. 70
2.3 Astronomy versus hydrography: Science, politics, and the Navy in the last decade of the Maury erap. 98
Chapter 3 Foundations of the American Nautical Almanac Office, 1849-65p. 118
3.1 Motives for an American nautical almanacp. 119
3.2 C. H. Davis: Organizing the almanac and the Almanac Officep. 124
3.3 Opposition and successp. 132
Chapter 4 Gilliss and the Civil-War yearsp. 140
4.1 Trials and triumphsp. 141
4.2 End of an erap. 158
Part II The golden era, 1866-93
Chapter 5 Scientific life and workp. 163
5.1 Administrative concernsp. 164
5.2 Charting the heavensp. 173
5.3 Time balls and telegraphs: Time for the nationp. 181
5.4 Solar-eclipse expeditionsp. 196
Chapter 6 Asaph Hall, the Great Refractor, and the moons of Marsp. 206
6.1 The Great Refractorp. 206
6.2 Asaph Hall and the moons of Marsp. 218
6.3 Aftermath: Hall and the 26-inch refractor after the discoveryp. 232
Chapter 7 William Harkness and the transits of Venus of 1874 and 1882p. 238
7.1 Motives and preparations: The U. S. Commission on the Transit of Venusp. 239
7.2 The 1874 expeditions and their results: Newcomb's frustrationp. 255
7.3 The 1882 expeditions and their results: The work of William Harknessp. 263
Chapter 8 Simon Newcomb and his workp. 274
8.1 Nautical Almanac computer and Naval Observatory astronomerp. 275
8.2 Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac Office, 1877-97p. 281
8.3 Newcomb's legacyp. 289
Part III The twentieth century
Chapter 9 Observatory Circle: A new site and administrative challenges for the twentieth centuryp. 295
9.1 A new site: Origins and development of Observatory Circlep. 296
9.2 The battle for civilian controlp. 318
9.3 War, depression, and modernizationp. 337
9.4 Post-war and Space-Age administrative developmentsp. 347
Chapter 10 Space: The astronomy of position and its usesp. 358
10.1 The old astronomy meets the new, 1893-1927p. 359
10.2 Attempts at modernization and origins of the Flagstaff Station, 1927-57p. 392
10.3 Positional astronomy in the Space Agep. 414
Chapter 11 Time: A service for the worldp. 451
11.1 Universal Time: Harnessing the Earth clock to 1950p. 453
11.2 A variety of times: Turning point at mid-centuryp. 477
11.3 Time service in the Space Agep. 487
Chapter 12 Navigation: From stars to satellitesp. 504
12.1 Chronometers and nautical instrumentsp. 505
12.2 The Nautical Almanac Office, 1893-1958p. 507
12.3 From stars to satellites: Into the Space Agep. 530
Summaryp. 549
Select bibliographical essayp. 561
Appendix 1 Sourcesp. 567
Appendix 2 Superintendents, Scientific Directors, and Department Directors of the U. S. Naval Observatoryp. 572
Appendix 3 Selected astronomical instrumentation and standard clocks at the U. S. Naval Observatory, 1844-2000p. 580
Appendix 4 U. S. Naval Observatory: Six generations of selected personnelp. 582
Appendix 5 Key legislation related to the Naval Observatory and Nautical Almanac Officep. 584
Indexp. 586

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