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Not By Chance!

Not By Chance!

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Not By Chance!

Lunghezza:
450 pagine
12 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Apr 26, 2016
ISBN:
9781456607296
Formato:
Libro

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The Hubble telescope captures stunning new images of our universe....Rovers comb the surface of Mars....NASA discovers an approaching asteroid threatening the Earth....As never before in history, today's society is on a quest to learn more about our place in the universe. Technological advances have allowed us to make great strides in deepening our understanding of the universe around us and our unique position in it. Drawing from his astrophysics background and work in space communications, the author of "Not By Chance!" explores a number of strange cosmic "coincidences" which enable our existence on this small terrestrial ball. Written in a popular and engaging manner, this book explores the position of our planet, the inclination of the Earth's axis, our proximity to the Moon and its size, along with a host of other factors which all point to the existence of a wise and powerful designer of the universe. This caring architect has clearly invested a great deal of effort in ensuring our survival on the planet we inhabit. There are just too many coincidences to be explained away as occurring only by chance.

It is hoped that the material presented will compel the reader to ponder these inevitable questions: Who is the designer? Why does he have such a great concern for us? How does he reveal himself to humankind?

With these and similar fundamental questions about the meaning of life and our existence, we'll enter the final portion of the book. In it we shall try to discover the identity of the creator of the universe. Are science and faith mutually exclusive, or are they perhaps complementary?

"Not By Chance!" offers a provocative read for those seeking answers about their place in the universe. Drawing on scientific and biblical evidence, it contextualizes readers' lives in the grand scheme of things and compels them to take control of their eternal destiny.
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Apr 26, 2016
ISBN:
9781456607296
Formato:
Libro

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Not By Chance! - Ranko Skoric

eternity.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Figure 1: The Algonquin Radio Telescope, Largest in Canada

Figure 2: The Other Cheek Unmasked

Figure 3: First Footprint on the Moon

Figure 4: Horse Hoof Prints on Mars?

Figure 5: A head on Mars!

Figure 6: Earth or Mars?

Figure 7: Honeycomb? Or Sponge?

Figure 8: Hubble – A Space Photographer

Figure 9: Expert Has Arrived

Figure 10: Run Away From This One!

Figure 11: Andromeda Galaxy

Figure 12: Seahorse

Figure 13: Three Elephant Trunks

Figure 14: The Oldest Photograph in the World

Figure 15: All Hope Abandon….

Figure 16: The Crab Nebula

Figure 17: Sleep Well, Our Native Earth

Figure 18: A Cosmic Speck

Figure 19: Author in Front of the Sun

Introduction

They say that once you have an encounter with a bear, you will never forget it. The image of your experience will forever be indelibly fixed in your mind. Having encountered a black bear this summer when hiking in the woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, I seem to have bears on my brain. Headlines of other bear encounters in the news readily catch my eye. I was particularly struck by the case of a jogger in British Columbia who I read about recently. Running in the woods near Vancouver, he heard a sound and looked behind him. Shocked, he spotted a large black bear running after him. Eager to get away from his pursuer, he ran as fast as he could, but to no avail. Stopping to catch what he thought would be his last breath, the jogger sought refuge between two logs. The bear caught up with him and stood on his hind legs, menacingly eyeing his prey, eager to strike. At that exact moment, the raucous cry of barking dogs pierced the stillness of the forest. Caught by surprise, the bear dropped down on all fours and ran off. A dog walker with three large dogs just happened to be going down the trail in the forest, when the dogs spotted the bear, thereby saving the jogger. Lucky guy! But was this just a coincidence or was it part of a master plan?

We hear everyday of incidents too good to be true, too improbable to have occurred only as the result of chance. In many instances our knowledge is very limited and we can only describe these cases as being a fluke. However, in the realm of science, we are able to use facts and probability to calculate the likelihood of an event occurring. This book was born as a means of exploring a growing number of strange cosmic coincidences which enable our existence on this planet. Many of these facts came to light only recently as a result of ongoing space exploration.

My own foray into the area of space research began in the 1960`s in Canada. A graduate of electronics engineering from the University of Zagreb in Croatia, I was awarded the National Research Council Fellowship in Radio Astronomy. This Fellowship was a special government grant designated for use in scientific research and graduate studies in this branch of astronomy. It turned out that I found myself the only graduate student working and studying with Professor Iizuka at the University of Toronto. The professor and I spent entire nights making observations and taking measurements. The subject of the final thesis was a spectral analysis of the signals coming from pulsating radio stars, or pulsars.

It is hard to forget the excitement that came over me when the giant dish-like antenna of the Algonquin radio telescope (Figure 1) for the first time obeyed the commands of my fingers on the control board and began to adjust its large ear skyward, looking for the constellation Taurus. Just a few seconds later, the first radio signals from a distant pulsar started to show up in the form of a very regular stream, like the ticking of a clock, or the beating of a remote, but very strong and healthy heart. I wanted to pinch myself, so difficult was it to believe that the whole event was not merely a long-cherished dream. My brain struggled to register the fact that these radio signals, having originated in an incredibly remote transmitter, had been travelling through the cosmic void for thousands upon thousands of years, rushing toward the planet Earth. They were not just casually walking as some old retirees, but speeding with an incredible velocity of 186 thousand miles per second! Eight minutes earlier they had zoomed past our Sun, and only a single second before the end of their long trip, they were in the vicinity of the Moon. And finally – impact! They silently and invisibly crashed into the metal dish of the Algonquin observatory in northern Canada. The whole thing was almost impossible to believe!

Much water has passed over Niagara Falls since that event of more than four decades ago. The cosmos has since faced an onslaught of scientists, like never before in history. Thanks to an explosive development in technology, especially in the fields of electronics and telecommunications, the heavens have in the last thirty years revealed more secrets than were known in the past five millennia.

Through these new astronomical discoveries one fact is becoming increasingly obvious: we are here not by chance. The position of our planet, the distance to the Moon and its precise size, the Earth’s axis inclination, the proximity and size of Jupiter (which like a football quarterback guards us from various space wanderers), the velocity of space acceleration, the balance in the number of electrons and protons, our Sun’s exact location in our own hundred billion star galaxy the Milky Way, and many other factors . . . all these point to a wise and powerful -- but also very caring -- designer of the universe. A designer who, in human terms, has clearly invested a great deal of effort to ensure our survival on this good old sphere. There are just too many coincidences to be explained away as occurring only by chance. Consider one example.

You often read in the newspaper of someone winning the lottery jackpot. Lucky guy, is likely your only comment. No real surprise that someone happened to pick all the right numbers. After all, it happens almost every week; and if not, then the size of the money pot goes up. But what would you say if that same lucky guy again won the grand prize a week later? Hmmm -- I can see you raising your eyebrows –you would not believe this, were it not here, right in front of your eyes, printed in black and white (as if that makes it true!). Well, someone was definitely born lucky - you mutter through your teeth, and turn to another page. But wait. What if that same person wins the lottery again the very next week?

Wait just one minute, mister, you would certainly think. Joe Q. Public wasn’t born yesterday. You think you could pull this trick and we won’t notice it? It’s obvious this game is fixed. That winner is probably related to the director of the lottery corporation, with the two of them now splitting the profit. No way! Only over my dead body!

So . . . you were willing to accept the possibility of coincidence after the second lottery drawing. But just three times in a row was too much to believe. Common sense kicked in, and you became certain that the game results were fixed. However, this example of a fraudulent lottery game is child’s play when compared with a number of cosmic coincidences that have recently come to light. Anyone would have to be crazy to believe that they could happen just by accident.

Throughout this book a number of hard to believe cosmic coincidences will be presented. One such example is the relationship between two space constants: the electromagnetic force and the force of gravity. These two values are crucial for the existence of stellar systems. If the electromagnetic force should be increased by only 1 over 10 to the exponent of 40 (the explanation of this term in a moment), there would be only stars the size of our Sun. Conversely, if the gravitational force should become greater than the electromagnetic force by that same negligible amount, we would have only huge stars. Okay, but really, who cares? The stars are pretty far away. What does it matter if they are all big or all small? It matters because we must have stars in both size ranges, in order to ensure our very existence. Bulky stars are necessary to sustain life since the thermonuclear explosions in their wombs are the main source of important chemical elements, without which there would be no life. On the other hand, somewhat smaller stars, like our Sun, are also extremely crucial for our survival, since only they can produce heat in a steady, stable manner, enabling life on a nearby planet. Thus, the existence of both types of stars is critical for our survival. This was only possible to achieve by an extremely careful adjustment of the balance between the two forces mentioned, the electromagnetic force, and the gravitational force. What is the balance as the ratio of 1 to 1 over 10 to the exponent of 40? First of all, 10 to the exponent 40, (10 ⁴⁰) is the number 1 followed by 40 zeroes. When after the number 1 you write six zeroes, it’s called a million. Write instead nine zeroes, and you have a billion; twelve zeroes is a trillion, and so on. But the number one followed by 40 zeroes? That huge number has no name at all, nor is it possible to imagine it in concrete terms. Perhaps we should use an example.

Imagine a pile of coins covering the entire European continent, and reaching all the way to the Moon. It’s rather unlikely that we would ever be able to spend so much money, but for our illustration it’s still not enough. So, try to imagine (I couldn’t) a billion (that is, a thousand million) piles like that. There is just nothing that money could not buy you (other than health and happiness). However, with this imaginary treasure we will not go shopping, but it will help us to better comprehend, to some extent, that incredible balance between the electromagnetic and gravitational force. If we were to add only one coin to that countless heap, the electromagnetic force would prevail. This would prevent the existence of those so badly needed large stars. And if we were to remove just one penny from that vast pile of money (and, say, pocket it), the balance would be disturbed in the opposite direction. The heavenly scale would immediately react to that negligibly small loss of balance, and tip to the other side, preventing the existence of smaller stars. Thus, even that slight increase in gravity would make it impossible for our Sun to exist.

It may be somewhat clearer now that it takes an incredibly accurate balance between these two forces for humanity to exist. A coincidence? That would be the same as if our lucky guy, by purchasing just one lottery ticket every week, grabs the jackpot every Saturday without fail, for a full fifty years! Only a fool would say that was just a coincidence. That fictitious example with a pile of coins is no different than that of the fishy lottery. I believe nobody needs to be convinced that coincidences of that level are simply impossible. It becomes obvious that some very wise designer has deliberately adjusted the extraordinarily precise alignment between the electromagnetic force and the gravitational force, in order to create one of many necessary conditions that allow for our existence on the Earth. And this is just one of many examples of such impossible coincidences you will find later in the book.

Some may now object by claiming that no designer was required, as all that exists is merely a result of the natural selection process. That argument may be, to some extent, valid; but only if the universe has always existed. In that case, nature would have had enough time to go through all possible combinations, and select this one. (A completely separate issue is the question of whether or not lifeless, mindless matter can make logical conclusions). However, there was just not enough time to test each possibility and choose the best in just 13.7 billion years. You see, it has been calculated, (and recently confirmed by the cosmic signal measurements) that the universe was not always around, but was born 13.7 billion years ago, in what is called The Big Bang.

Until less than a century ago, it was an accepted view in the scientific community that the universe had no beginning. The first one who started to question that view was Einstein, while working on his Theory of Relativity. His calculations were showing that the universe actually did have a beginning. However, in order to avoid looking ridiculous in the eyes of his colleagues (who were at that time convinced that the universe had no birthday, but was simply always there), Einstein invented a fudge factor and put it into his equations, thereby deliberately distorting the actual outcome. However, he should be given credit for later having enough courage to publicly admit the biggest blunder of his life, as he called it. In subsequent years, the discovery and analysis of cosmic radio signals has shown that all matter, space, and even time itself, came about in an instant, 13.7 billion years ago, through the titanic explosion of an unimaginably small dot, smaller than a needlepoint, thus practically out of nothing. The greatest tribute for this discovery, in the form of the Nobel Prize for Physics, was recently awarded for this achievement to two American astrophysicists, John Mather and George Smoot, in December of 2006.

In order for this subject to be understandable to readers not versed in astronomical and physical sciences, an introductory section was prepared. It briefly covers the basics of astronomy and provides answers to questions such as: Is there a beginning and an end of the universe? How many of us are zooming through the solar system? Who is turning around whom? How large is the cosmos? How and when was it created? For ease of reading, mathematical calculations have held to a bare minimum.

The first part of the book, therefore, serves as an aid to a better understanding of the second part, which will, through numerous examples, clearly point toward the existence of a Creator. It includes an overview of new astronomical discoveries, indicating very clearly that we are not here by accident, but by the design of a supremely intelligent Creator. More and more scientists are arriving at this conclusion, even though not everyone is immediately ready to openly admit it. Fear of ridicule, fear of losing one’s position and potential career advancement are just some of the reasons for silence. Very few are willing to swim upstream. However, science will thrive only if its findings are disclosed without fear, no matter where they may lead. With this principle in mind, many top scientists are opening their mouths and breaking the silence, regardless of criticism or unpleasant consequences. The example of Richard Smalley comes to mind. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996. Throughout his life, Smalley was a firm believer in Darwin and his Theory of Evolution, which alleges that everything has developed through a process of natural selection. However, a number of recent scientific discoveries have changed his mind, and a few years ago, Smalley publicly and courageously admitted his strong belief in the existence of the Creator of the Universe and Father of us all. The truth cannot be pushed aside for ever. A scientific association has recently been established in California, composed of scientists from many different fields. Through their studies, they have all reached the same conclusion: this world is not the result of random chance or some mindless evolution, but was conceived and created by an infinitely intelligent Mind. Current scientific literature frequently contains articles written by brave and honest scientists who are publicly rejecting as out dated Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and, by providing solid arguments, are trying to prove the existence of the Creator.

I hope that the presented material will compel the reader to ponder these inevitable questions: Who is that designer? Why such a great concern for us? Did He ever come into contact with people? What does He expect from us? From me?

With these and similar fundamental questions about the meaning of life and of our existence, we’ll enter the third part of the book. In it we shall try to discover the identity of the Creator of the universe. Are science and faith mutually exclusive (as I was taught in a communist school), or are they perhaps complementary? After reading, judge for yourself. All scientists belonging to that California association (plus many others) came to one identical conclusion: man, the world, and the universe are all the handiwork of a wise architect. The progress of science was supposed to forever bury the idea of a Creator. However, what happened is just the opposite. Through the latest scientific discoveries, His fingerprints are more visible today than ever before in the history of mankind. The results of my search of many years to discover the real identity of the designer of the universe can be found in the third part of the book. Thanks to the unprecedented progress of science and technology in the past few decades, today’s generation is the first one, for which it can be said, that is gaining an insight into -- in the words of famed British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking – the mind of God.

One doesn’t have to be miraculously rescued from a bear attack to become aware of many even stranger coincidences in the world around us, coincidences that are not only preserving our life, but enabling the existence and survival of the whole human race on this planet. If you really feel an interest in the extraordinarily important question of our survival and our ultimate destiny, then you will surely find a way, either through this book or some other material, to learn more about this subject. You owe it to yourself. The aim of this book is to illuminate your path during your search.

Toronto (Canada), August 2011

R.S.

National Research Council of Canada

Fig. 1 – The Algonquin Radio Telescope, Largest in Canada

This 150-foot metal antenna, part of the largest radio receiver in Canada, was built in 1966, just one year before the author’s arrival over the big pond. It is situated on the shores of Lake Traverse, a small body of water deep in the impenetrable forests of northern Ontario. It is not a coincidence that this radio observatory is located in such dense wilderness. The reason is purely technical in nature. Sensitive radio telescopes that constantly listen for radio waves from distant stars must not be disturbed by signals originating from human activity. Their delicate electronic ear would easily pick up random electrical noise from ordinary household appliances, such as turning the lights on or off, switching of electric heaters, hair dryers etc. This is the reason that for hundreds of kilometres around the observatory there are no human dwellings, forestry camps, or even visitors, except, of course, for the bears and wolves. For similar reasons, even optical observatories are now being built far from human settlements and their light pollution. One example of this problem can be seen in the fact the powerful telescope on the roof of the Astronomy Department of the University of Toronto has been rendered almost useless as it languishes in its dome, being almost totally paralyzed by the glare of dazzling artificial light produced by this largest Canadian city, as one can hardly see one single star on Toronto’s illuminated night sky. The problem is exacerbated by occurrences of urban smog, which can create a luminous cloud over the entire metropolis, and reflect the city’s lights back to the ground.

Using the same principle that allows a person to hear better with two ears than with one, the Algonquin radio telescope is sometimes electronically linked with a similar dish located in the Rocky Mountains, near Vancouver on Canada’s Pacific coast. By combining their receiving powers, these two radio telescopes can detect even those faint signals which one dish alone would not be able to hear.

The Algonquin radio telescope became operational just in time for the discovery of pulsars - those mysterious cosmic bodies that have been found to emit incredibly regular radio signals. Given that remarkable regularity, it is not surprising that initial theories included the thought that some distant civilization was trying to contact us. However, subsequent scanning of the sky found dozens of similar sources of radio waves at widely different points of the sky. Before long, new hypotheses were put forth, all attempting to conceive and explain the strange physical processes that might cause these stars to generate precise and regular radio signals, and speculation about bizzare aliens with big heads operating radio transmitters pointed toward Earth soon fell into disfavour – except, of course, in certain check-out tabloids….

Several hundred kilometres from the Algonquin Radio Observatory, deep inside the Algonquin National Park, a fascinating and compelling event takes place on a certain day each August. Of interesting note for those who never had the opportunity to experience the breathtaking vastness of the country, Canadian parks can be greater than some European countries, and becoming lost in such a huge wilderness has occasionally resulted in tragedy. There in Algonquin, in the twilight of that August day, a long column of cars carrying curious tourists drive into the forest to a particular point on the road, where they silently park, and switch off engines and lights. As nightfall’s shadow settles over the land, Park officials then turn toward the darkened forest and begin to utter an eerie simulation of a wolfs’ call. Almost immediately, the calls are answered from the deep ravines and dense woodlands, as hundreds of wolves raise their muzzles to the night sky, lifting their voices in a wild chorus that freezes the blood of all who hear. Sinister and magnificent, the song of the wolves echoes on, an unforgettable night concert that cannot fail to inspire awe of the Canadian wilderness and its dangerous inhabitants.

1. WORLDS ABOVE OUR HEAD

How Many Children Does The Sun Have?

We learned in grade school to view our solar system as a kind of family, with the Sun as the father, and the planets as the children. And of course, we were taught that the father had nine children, that is, nine planets, turning around it: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn (the married one, with the ring), Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Our teacher explained that the planets where heavenly bodies producing no light or heat of their own. These nine children constantly revolve around their father, the Sun. Our young minds accepted these statements without question. Nine planets, with ours being the third (counting from the Sun), another two closer in, and the remaining six farther away. Nice and clear.

And yet, it wasn’t always that clear. I’m not referring just to ancient times. Even today there are more and more people who are not exactly sure how many planets are out there . . . not to mention something that happened just a few years ago concerning Pluto. In order to sort it all out, let’s go back several millennia, to a time when human knowledge about the planets was in its infancy.

In those good old days, the stars were shining with far greater power than is now the case. No, they haven’t actually weakened, or run out of gas, so to speak. The trouble is that our atmosphere is becoming seriously polluted, choked by everything from smog and smoke to the reflections of millions of light bulbs. Today, it is almost impossible to find a stretch of clear, dark sky where the stars glitter in their thousands as brightly as I remember from my childhood on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. And that was not so many decades ago; I am not quite Methuselah yet. Yes, we have fouled and dirtied our planet, quite possibly beyond the point of no return.

Try to imagine how the sky must have looked to the studious Greeks and Babylonians, a few thousand years ago. On every clear night, their heads must have been turned upwards, admiring what they saw. In addition to a large number of fixed stars (that is, those which don’t change their position relative to each other), the sky-watchers in ancient times had also observed a number of luminous dots which were sort of wandering around in the night skies. Today, of course, we would immediately conclude that any moving object seen in the dark sky must be an airplane, or maybe a satellite. In ancient times, there was no such readily available explanation. Mind you, these mysterious objects could not actually be seen to move as one watched; but their shift of position in relation to the fixed stars could sometimes be seen from one night to the next. The Greeks named them planets, which in their language means, wanderers. At that time there were no optical aids such as binoculars or telescopes; the sky could be studied only with the naked eye. For that reason, the astronomers of the time knew only five of these strangely moving dots. They gave them names: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Until the 16th century, the Earth itself was not counted as a part of that family of planets, since it was universally believed that Earth was the centre of the universe (just as some people think that the whole world is turning around them – you probably know some of these). Eventually, however, Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus removed the Earth from her throne, proving that she was just one more planet, obediently turning around the Sun in the same way as the others. This meant that the accepted number of planets was increased to six. It was a long time before the progress of science and technology revised that figure upwards.

Uranus: The First Planet Discovered by Telescope

The invention of the telescope in the 17th century quite literally opened a new window into space. Astronomers searched the sky every night, overwhelmed by new discoveries in the beautiful realm above their heads. In 1781, the English astronomer Herschel was patiently studying the constellation Gemini using his telescope when he noticed a new body there. There was, of course, as yet no Internet, or telephone, or even telegraph; yet news of such importance spread quickly among Herschel’s colleagues. The French astronomer Laplace declared that this was actually a new planet, the seventh from the Sun, and existing twice as far out as the last known planet, Saturn. It was calculated that for one trip around the Sun, this newly discovered planet required a full 84 years. By the mid-18th century, it was generally agreed that this seventh should be named Uranus.

Uranus is really an odd ball among the planets of our solar system. It moves along its course like a drunkard, heeled over at a bizarrely steep tilt, yet somehow managing not to stumble (it is said that one falls backward after consuming too much beer). Its inclination of 82 degrees is unique among the planets which is usually between 23 and 28 degrees. But that’s not all: Uranus rotates on its axis in a direction opposite to the other planets. The most widely accepted explanation for Uranus’ peculiarities is the theory that this vast ball, having the volume almost 70 times greater than the Earth, was probably at some time in its distant past the victim of a collision with a hurtling space object. It appears someone did a really good job on the poor Uranus. It still hasn’t recovered from that violent impact.

Through binoculars, Uranus can be seen as a tiny bright spot, while a telescope of moderate strength shows it as a small, green-blue disk. Spectral analysis of its light reveals that its atmosphere is composed mainly of hydrogen, with a lesser amount of helium. A dangerous cloud of frozen methane is responsible for the orange-blue glare. Uranus is so distantly remote from the Sun that its rays have almost no effect on the planet. It is estimated that the surface temperature of Uranus is colder than 200 degrees below zero. Brrrr! Some twenty years ago, the American spacecraft Voyager 2 came as close as 18 million miles to Uranus, and sent back detailed pictures of this distant neighbour. Like Saturn, Uranus is also surrounded by rings; we can see eleven of them. These rings are composed of millions of pieces of celestial debris, varying in size from that of an apple to that of a house. Trapped in the planet’s strong gravitational pull, they have no choice but to frantically spin around their new master forever.

In addition to its rings, a large number of natural satellites -- moons -- are also in orbit around Uranus. From the Earth, we can see five of them; Voyager 2 discovered an additional ten, and it is likely that there are others. The biggest of these moons, Titania, has a radius of nearly 800 kilometres. It revolves around its parent planet in a path that is only slightly farther from the planet’s surface than our own Moon is from the surface of the Earth.

Mathematics Aids in the Discovery of Two Planets

a. Neptune

Were it not for Sir Isaac Newton and his Laws of Gravity, we might still believe that there are only seven planets in our solar system, with Uranus as the last to be discovered. However, detailed observations of Uranus’ course caused astronomers to suspect that some other object was hiding there. You see, rather than moving in a regular ellipse, it was observed that it seemed to stagger in its path, demonstrating a deviation known as perturbation -- quite in character with its drunkenly tilted axis, but in all seriousness, not a result of it. Early theories suggested that the two bulky planets, Jupiter and Saturn, might be responsible, especially since it was known that their strong gravity did indeed have a considerable impact on Uranus’ pathway (Bring in the usual suspects!). However, subsequent and more precise measurements indicated that there must be another object out there, meaning that Jupiter and Saturn were not guilty for everything. Astronomers admitted that some invisible body was pulling their leg, agreeing that some invisible body must be affecting Uranus.

A young Frenchman, Leverrier, took up the challenge in 1845, and began a long and difficult mathematical search for that invisible heavenly body. In this age of calculators and computers, it is almost impossible to appreciate the laborious task facing anyone using mathematics in that not so distant past. Leverrier worked with a goose-quill pen that required frequent dipping in an ink-pot. In my own lifetime, I still have clear memories of flipping logarithmic tables during high school math class. Later, in university, a single mechanical slide rule of dubious accuracy was the only computing aid we had. Today, of course, you just press a few keys on your computer keyboard and presto - electronic magic produces an extremely precise result in no time at all. We are, however, paying a price. Today’s children hardly know the multiplication tables at all. Ask a fourth grader how much is 7x5, and he’s already reaching for his calculator . . . a real shame!

Yes, in the days of Leverrier, everything had to be done in a pedestrian manner. Although fully aware of the exhaustive task facing him, Leverrier was not deterred. He began with a number of intelligent assumptions. His first premise was that this invisible body was probably twice as far from the Sun as was Uranus; second, that it also moved inside the ecliptic, that huge plane where all other planets are located. Why, he reasoned logically, would this one body be an exception? His next step was to divide the entire 360-degree ecliptic plane into 40 parts, assuming that the invisible planet (or whatever it was) could be hiding in any one of them. For each of these 40 parts, it was now necessary to perform very long and tedious gravity calculations. Thus, he had to repeat the same laborious work 40 times, in order to show this new body’s impact on the path of Uranus, should it turn out to have been hiding in one of those 40 positions. The results, one by one, were then compared with Uranus’ perturbations. Truly an enormous task, to be done aided by nothing more than a primitive pen and paper. After working diligently for more than a year, Leverrier finally felt that he was making progress. That mysterious body was almost in his hands. His calculations indicated that it was within the constellation of Capricorn. Like a predator on the scent of his prey, Leverrier sent an urgent letter to a colleague, Galle, at the Berlin Observatory, asking him to aim his powerful telescope as soon as possible at that one particular point in the sky. This guy didn’t need to be asked twice. Galle complied at once, as it was immediately clear to him that they were on the threshold of a historical discovery.

That happened to be the first day of autumn in 1846. As soon as the mailman carrying Leverrier’s letter left, Galle started eagerly to await the arrival of the night, praying for the sky not to be cloudy. His prayer was heard, and answered, and almost at once he detected a tiny dot at the location specified in Leverrier’s letter. The following night, he found the dot again, and this time noticed a small shift, compared to the previous day’s position, based on the use of fixed stars in the background as reference points. In order to be absolutely sure of his observations, he repeated them on several

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