by Rudolf BALANDIN, member of the V. I. Vernadsky Scientific Heritage Commission, Russian Academy of Sciences
At first blush the history of astronomy seems to be of interest only to a cohort of specialists. But looking through the recently published collection of "Historical-Astronomical Studies, No. XXVIII" compiled by the S. I. Vavilov Institute of the History of Natural Science and Technology (RAS), we can see how important this subject-matter is for the cognition of the world we live in and, first and foremost, of the laws governing the development of science, and its role in societal life (Moscow, Nauka Publishers, 2003).
Readers can find interesting materials on modern astronomy and cosmology, space research and related studies. Here are the names of some of the articles: "Chandra: Moonlight" (about the life work of the American astrophysicist born in India, Nobel prizewinner Subrahmanyan Chandrasekara (1910 - 1995); "Contemporary Knowledge of the Dynamics of Planetary Rings"; "The St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in the 18th Century and its Role in the Dissemination of Newtonianism in Europe"; "Ancient Astronomy in South America"... Two discussions appear to us both intriguing and instructive: about scientific revolutions in the hard sciences (astronomy, mathematics, physics) and about the hypothetical planet Phaeton. Although truth is not always born in the clashes of opposite opinions, such disputes help nonetheless to see the subject in all its bearings.
There are ups and downs in the development of any science, and so are breakthrough periods when many conventional notions are discarded or rethought in favor of pioneering ideas. Forty years ago Thomas Coon of the United States pointed to the characteristic features of such epochs (in his monograph on the structure of scientific revolutions). This matter still gives much food for thought, it sparks disputes and arguments. But scholars still fail
to agree on certain essential, key points. ... Read more