Just how many moons does Earth have? How did Jonathan Swift predict the satellites of Mars a century and a half before their discovery? Does an unseen killer lurk at the edge of the solar system, raining down periodic death upon our planet? And just why do astronomers have it in for poor, demoted Pluto?
My latest project, Lost Worlds, is a tour through the misdiscovery of our solar system, exploring the forgotten breakthroughs, mistaken theories, and ferocious disputes that shaped our understanding of our planetary neighbourhood. I’ll let the blurb speak for itself:
Science, like history, tends to get written by the winners, and the science of the stars and planets is no different. Most books about astronomy tell a tale of continuous progress, with old theories discarded in favour of newer and better ones, and never a wrong turn along the way…
Of course the truth is much more interesting than that.
Lost Worlds is a celebration of the forgotten story of astronomy, and in particular of the many planets, moons and other worlds that have been proclaimed, usually mistakenly, in the four centuries since the invention of the telescope. It is a tale of sudden fame and ignominy – of respected names brought low by embarrassing wild goose chases, and of cranks redeemed by modern scientific discoveries.
Ranging from telescopic illusions such as Neith, the lost moon of Venus, through mathematical phantoms like the fiery planet Vulcan, to tantalising “what-ifs?” such as the ninth (or is it tenth?) planet, Lost Worlds sheds new light on everything from the notebooks of Galileo and William Herschel, to the travels of the Voyager spaceprobes and the planet-hunting exploits of today’s giant telescopes.
I hope you’ll find this story as fascinating as I have. I’m currently having a lot of fun writing it, and I’m looking forward to sharing more details about the publication and other aspects in the coming months.