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The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

About the book

Published by the Head of Zeus

In the early 19th century, astronomers realised that Mercury has a wobble: its orbit shifts over time. According to Newton’s theory of gravitation, this shouldn’t happen. In 1859, the brilliant French scientist Urban LeVerrier discovered the explanation: there had to be an unseen planet circling even closer to the sun, distorting the orbit of Mercury. He called the new planet Vulcan. There was only one problem. Vulcan does not exist – and was never there. The Hunt for Vulcan is a scientific detective tale at the intersection of theory, measurement, and belief; and a reflection on a bizarre period in which the power of conformity led very smart people to literally see a planet that wasn’t there.

Read the first chapter (PDF)

About the author

Thomas Levenson is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of the bestselling Newton and the Counterfeiter. His other books include Einstein in Berlin and Ice Time: Climate, Science and Life on Earth.