When Numeracy Superseded Literacy—and Created the Modern World

The Renaissance's Embrace of Numbers Revolutionized Commerce, Science, and Art

In 1025, two learned monks, Radolph of Liége and Ragimbold of Cologne, exchanged several letters on mathematical topics they had encountered while reading a manuscript of the sixth-century Roman philosopher, Boethius, whose writings supplied one of the few mathematics sources in the Middle Ages. These monks were not mathematicians, but they were inquisitive and keen to further their learning. They pondered Boethius’ words. They struggled. In particular, they puzzled over the theorem that the interior angles of a triangle were equal to two right angles. “Interior angles” of a triangle? …

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Confessions of an Eclipse Chaser

For Four Decades I've Traveled the World, Tracking the 'Eye of God'

On August 21st this year, I will log my 26th solar eclipse and my 17th total solar eclipse. August 21st is when parts of the contiguous United States will fall …

Arrival’s Aliens Reflect How We Treat One Another

We React With Distrust and Paranoia, While They (Literally) Rise Above

In the recently released film Arrival, Earth is visited by an intelligent alien race, the heptapods, and the contact forever changes humanity’s sense of place in the cosmos. The movie …

Even in Deep Space, There Are Shades of Black

How a Planet Hunter Finds Faint Objects in a Sea of Darkness

In my line of work, I stare at shades of black.

My work starts on dark, black nights, when there is no moon or reflection from it. The telescopes I …

Watching Stars Explode From Mount Wilson

For 100 Years, Scientists Have Been Making Historic Discoveries About Our Universe, Right Here in Los Angeles

At the top of Mount Wilson on a dark, quiet night, the sprawling city lights of Los Angeles flicker in the valley below. Across the mountain, several telescope domes are …

These Days, Darwin Would Need To Know More About Jupiter

What Can Astronomers Teach Biologists?

The more we learn about the universe, the more it looks like the building blocks of life—organic molecules, amino acids, planets near a sun—are present throughout. Much of what we …