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David Fried

Hello Andrea,

I was at Kitt Peak on Tuesday, enjoyed your talk and bought your book, which I am now reading. May I offer a small correction? On page 53, you have an engraving of "An astronomer observing the transit of Venus." Nope--it's an astronomer using a transit instrument, a completely different thing. Star positions were recorded by using a telescope rigidly mounted, like this one, to move on only one axis--the north-south line. The altitude of the scope gave the star's declination, or "latitude." The moment when the star crossed the north-south meridian-its "transit" time--gave its right ascension, or "longitude." This is almost certainly what the observer is doing, with his notebook and illuminated clock, although a separate notetaker at the clock would be preferable (that's how Wm. and Caroline Herschel worked.) A transit instrument would also reveal the night-to-night motions of a new planet or asteroid. I'm interested to see the hourglass, which presumably served as a "stopwatch" for recording short intervals. A seconds-beating pendulum (and many astronomical regulators beat double-seconds) would not accurately show fractions of a second.

Such a set-up would be of no use in observing a transit of Venus, which lasted for hours as the sun moved through the sky. The telescope would therefore have to be able to track in all directions.

Mr.Keating's first point above about determining latitude is also correct, but his second needs expansion. The "analemma" is a figure used to graphically display the "equation of time," or difference between mean solar noon (clock time) and local noon on any given day. I'm not sure I see the relevance to navigation, because I don't think the equation of time varies with latitude--but I'm not sure.

Himansu (Snowy) baijnathh

Dear Ms Wulf

I am awed by the range and detail of your outputs. Am a Kew trained plant scientist and in addition to other functions have been exploring for the past decade and half the family Strelitziaceae to which Strelitzia reginae, the Bird of Paradise belongs. I was very pleased with your glossary in "The Brother Gardeners". You have recorded on page 264 that"..Masson
introduced it in 1773 to Kew, and by 1790 it had flowered...." I would be eternally grateful if you could lead me to a reference where this is recorded as I require the data for a publication. My email address is baijnathh@ukzn.ac.za and I live in Strelitzia country, South Africa.
Good luck with your new ventures, I meant adventures.

With thanks
Himansu Baijnath (Professor)

Vicki Livingstone

I am the Program Chair of the Nantucket Garden Club in Nantucket, Ma. I would like to know how you charge for a lecture and whether we might be able to work something out between the Nantucket Atheneum and ourselves to have you speak to us at one of our meetings. Thank you, Vicki Livingstone

Erik Zehender

Andrea, On behalf of Northwest Michigan Master Gardeners Association, I'd like to invite you to visit the Leelanau County/Traverse City area whenever you're in the Midwest. We have a highly literate community that fills our local opera house to watch interviews with accomplished writers. Two events, one for the general public and one for Master Gardeners, teachers and high school students would be a format similar to one we did with Peter Matthiessen. Please email.
Cheers, Erik Zehender

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ANDREA WULF

  • I'm a full-time writer and the author of six books. I have written for many newspapers including the New York Times, the Guardian, Financial Times, The Atlantic and WSJ. My latest books are "The Invention of Nature" and “The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt”. I lecture widely across the world. Click here for a short bio. Contact: andrea (at) andreawulf.com

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    photo credit (c) Antonina Gern