Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group


The Race to Measure the Cosmos

Alan W. Hirshfeld

Henry Holt and Co.




In the dramatic tradition of the best-selling Longitude, Parallax charts the historical path of observational astronomy's most daunting challenge: measuring the distance to a star.

The greatest scientific minds applied themselves in vain to the problem across the millennia, beginning with the ancient Greeks. Not until the nineteenth century would three astronomers, armed with the best telescopes of the age, race to conquer this astronomical Everest—their contest ending in a virtual dead heat.

Against a sweeping backdrop filled with kidnappings, dramatic rescue, swordplay, madness, and bitter rivalry, Alan Hirshfeld brings to life the heroes of this remarkable story. Meet the destitute boy plucked from a collapsed building who becomes the greatest telescope maker the world has ever seen; the hot-tempered Dane whose nose is lopped off in a duel over mathematics; the merchant's apprentice forced to choose between the lure of money and his passion for astronomy; and the musician who astounds the world by discovering a new planet from his own backyard.

Generously illustrated with diagrams, period engravings, and paintings, Parallax is an unforgettable tale that illuminates the distinctly human side of science.



Part 1
The Sun-centered model of the cosmos. From Copernicus,De Revolutionibus, 1543.

Source: Wolbach Library, Harvard University.

Reinventing the Cosmos


Praise for Parallax

“A thrilling detective story!” —Owen Gingerich, Research Professor of Astronomy and the History of Science, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

“A wonderfully told story of the challenge of measuring our place in the universe. It reaches the stars and the ride is exciting and irresistible.” —Margaret J. Geller, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

“One of the great stories of scientific history . . . Hirshfeld sheds light on the important problem of finding our cosmic place.” —David H. Levy, Science Editor, Parade, and discoverer of 21 comets

“Alan Hirshfeld's authoritative and gripping tale of the search for stellar parallax makes me proud to be a part of such a relentlessly curious and persistent species.” —Chet Raymo, columnist, Boston Globe, author of 365 Starry Nights and professor of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts

“An excellent book. I'm sure it will be of great value to many readers.” —Sir Patrick Moore, host of the BBC's The Sky at Night

“Alan Hirshfeld has done for the measurement of the cosmos what Dava Sobel did for the measurement of longitude. Readers will never again look into the night sky the same way.” —Chet Raymo, columnist, Boston Globe, author of 365 Starry Nights and professor of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts

“Alan Hirshfeld has done a magnificent job, in keeping with the best tradition of astronomical history.” —Leif J. Robinson, Editor Emeritus, Sky & Telescope

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Alan W. Hirshfeld

Alan W. Hirshfeld, astronomer at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an Associate of the Harvard College Observatory, received his undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Princeton and his Ph.D. in astronomy from Yale. He is co-author of Sky Catalogue 2000.0, a two-volume astronomical reference book, and a past winner of a Griffith Observatory/Hughes Aircraft Co. national science writing award. He lives outside Boston.

Alan W. Hirshfeld