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  • Published: 31 January 2013
  • ISBN: 9781448167227
  • Imprint: Transworld Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 320

Measuring the Universe

The Historical Quest to Quantify Space

Suppose you and I still wondered whether all of the pinpoints of light in the night sky are the same distance from us. Suppose none of our contemporaries could tell us whether the Sun orbits the Earth, or vice versa, or even how large the Earth is. Suppose no one had guessed there are mathematical laws underlying the motions of the heavens.

How would - how did - anyone begin to discover these numbers and these relationships without leaving the Earth? What made anyone even think it was possible to find out “how far,” without going there?
In Measuring the Universe we join our ancestors and contemporary scientists as they tease this information out of a sky full of stars. Some of the questions have turned out to be loaded, and a great deal besides mathematics and astronomy has gone into answering them. Politics, religion, philosophy and personal ambition: all have played roles in this drama.

There are poignant personal stories, of people like Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Herschel, and Hubble. Today scientists are attempting to determine the distance to objects near the borders of the observable universe, far beyond anything that can be seen with the naked eye in the night sky, and to measure time back to its origin. The numbers are too enormous to comprehend.

Nevertheless, generations of curious people have figured them out, one resourceful step at a time. Progress has owed as much to raw ingenuity as to technology, and frontier inventiveness is still not out of date.

  • Published: 31 January 2013
  • ISBN: 9781448167227
  • Imprint: Transworld Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 320

About the author

Kitty Ferguson

Kitty Ferguson was born in San Antonio, Texas. She studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York and was for many years a successful professional musician, conducting and performing oratorio, early music and chamber music. In 1986 she moved to England where her husband was a Visiting Fellow and later Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. During this and many subsequent periods of residence at Cambridge, Kitty Ferguson audited graduated lectures and seminars in the Department of Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics and got to know some of the legendary figures in those fields, including Stephen Hawking. In 1987 she retired from music to devote herself full time to writing about science.

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Praise for Measuring the Universe

It is one of the great stories of science, and Ferguson tells it well.

Sunday Telegraph, London

Ferguson offers lucid accounts of the reasoning behind important leaps of insight, but it’s the little details that delight.


Ferguson manages to walk us through the most amazing research. She is as interested in the quirky intellectual temperaments of astronomy’s pioneers as in their discoveries.


Modern bookshelves are filled with stories of cosmic discovery. Occasionally, however, an author comes along who dares to describe how science works, who dares to find its underbelly and remind us that the romance and pleasure of cosmic discoveries lies not necessarily in experimental results but in the journey of measurements that led to them. Such an author is Kitty Ferguson, a musician turned science writer, who is distinguished as one who can explain complex things – from the life and times of cosmic objects like black holes to the life and times of cosmic physicists such as Stephen Hawking.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City

Music, more than any of the other arts, is expressed in numbers – measurements of differences in pitch and time. I’m no scientist, but I know what I like, and I found Measuring the Universe exciting, entertaining, and even enthralling.

Peter Schickele

Ferguson turns men of science into men of fascination.

Evening Standard

Ferguson brings a lively, infectiously enthusiastic tone and historical perspective to measuring the universe. A very readable and enjoyable book.

Wendy Freedman, Carnegie Obsevatories

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