Colloquium on 29 January 2015
Astronomical advances during the 17th Century Scientific Revolution


Title: Astronomical advances during the 17th Century Scientific Revolution
Speaker: Richard de Grijs (Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Peking University, China)
Date: Thursday, 29 January 2015
Time: 11:00 - 12:00
Venue: SAAO Auditorium


Some time during the second half of the 17th Century, the Cassiopeia A
supernova must have exploded. However, to date it is unclear whether
contemporary astronomers actually saw and recorded the event. Western
records seem inconclusive, while Chinese and Japanese records appear
to have missed the event completely. Confusion abounds, but we
recently stumbled upon possible evidence of the Cas A supernova in the
Chinese imperial records. These interests led me to explore a large
body of correspondence among contemporary scientists and their
associates based in the 17th Century Dutch Republic. The
“ePistolarium” webtool allows current scientists and historians
unfettered access to transcriptions of some 20,000 letters from the
Dutch Golden Age. This wealth of information offers unprecedented
insights in the involvement of 17th Century thinkers in the scientific
issues of the day, including descriptions of their efforts in
developing methods to accurately determine longitude at
sea. Unsurprisingly, the body of correspondence referring to this
latter aspect is largely dominated by letters involving Christiaan
Huygens. However, in addition to the scientific achievements reported
on, we also get an unparalleled and fascinating view of the
personalities involved.

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