Astronomy at War
World War I was raging around German military officer Karl Schwarzschild, yet the mathematician couldn't stop thinking about Albert Einstein's new theory of relativity.
He was fascinated by Einstein's idea that gravity was a "warp" in space caused by matter. Schwarzschild calculated that if you squeezed matter tightly enough, it would warp the space around it so strongly that not even light could escape from it. In the middle of a war, Schwarzschild had created the basic concept of a black hole.
Wars have sometimes slowed astronomical progress, but they haven't stopped it. Over the centuries, many astronomers have continued their work right through wars, sometimes putting themselves in harm's way to obtain critical observations.
And much of the technology of modern astronomy was developed to fight wars -- or to prevent them.
War sometimes weaves its way through the history of astronomy in odd ways.
Consider Hiram Perkins, an astronomer in Ohio. When the Civil War began, he tried to join the Union army, but he was too gaunt. So he raised pigs to supply the troops, and invested his earnings.
Decades later, he endowed a new observatory in Ohio. But by then, World War I had destroyed the great glassworks of Europe, so the 69-inch mirror for the Perkins Telescope was made in the USA. It was the first large mirror created in the western hemisphere -- a mirror made possible by two wars.
More about "astronomy at war" tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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