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Chapter Four — The measure of things

A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson

Chapter 4 – The Measure of Things

  • Edmund Halley did not discover the comet that bears his name. He simply recognized that the comet he saw in 1682 was the same one that had been seen by others in 1607, 1531, and 1456. It didn’t become “Halley’s Comet” until 1758, 16 years after his death.
  • Isaac Newton was eccentric. Among other things, he probed his eye socket with a long needle, stared at the Sun for as long as he could bear, invented calculus and told no one, spent years trying to convert base metals to precious metals, discovered the inverse square law of planetary orbits, and propounded that the earth bulged at the equator due to its rotation (it does so by 43 kilometers).
  • A reclusive British scientist name Henry Cavendish calculated the weight of the earth in the 18th century, and was only 1% off the actual weight (6 billion trillion metric tons).
  • Today, scientists have at their disposal machines so precise that they can detect the weight of a single bacterium and so sensitive that readings can be disturbed by someone yawning 75 feet away.
  • How fast you are spinning as you stand on the Earth’s surface depends on where you are. The speed varies from about 1,000 mph at the equator to zero at the poles.
  • The Earth is about 100 miles “chubbier” at the equator than from pole to pole due to the bulging caused by the rotation on its axis.
  • The transit of Venus across the face of the Sun was used to calculate Earth’s distance from the Sun, and hence distances to all other bodies in the solar system. The transits of Venus come in pairs, about 8 years apart, and then don’t occur again for 106 years.

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