Dennis Rawlins (born
1937 in Baltimore, Maryland) is an
American astronomer, historian, and publisher.
Scientific issues investigated
Polar controversies
While studying historical magnetic declination data in polar
regions, Rawlins was surprised to find that there were no such data
from the 1909 expedition of
Robert
E. Peary, eventually leading him
to become skeptical of Peary's claim to have reached the North
Pole. In 1973, Rawlins wrote
Peary at the North Pole: Fact or
Fiction? (Washington: Luce) which was the first scientific
examination of the issue that concluded that neither Peary nor his
rival
Frederick A. Cook had reached the Pole. The book also
revealed since-confirmed evidence that Peary's 1907 claim to have
discovered non-existent "Crocker Land" in 1906 was a fabrication.
In 1989 Rawlins found that Peary had suppressed his 1909 diary's
only explanation of steering poleward, when he read the diary to
Congress in 1911.
In 1996, Ohio State University invited Rawlins to examine the newly
recovered diary of
Richard E.
Byrd, which contained at critical
points erased but still legible
altitudes observed by
sextant. Rawlins discovered the uncontested fact
that these placed Byrd roughly south of where his official report
put him at the corresponding times. Rawlins thus concluded that
despite navigating successfully for most of the necessary distance,
Byrd's effort had also fallen short, and that therefore the
Norwegian explorer
Roald Amundsen,
fourth claimant to the North Pole, was first to genuinely reach it,
on May 12, 1926. Given that Amundsen is undisputed first attainer
of the South Pole, Rawlins announced that Amundsen was thus first
to each geographical pole of the earth. When in 1973 Rawlins had
published this opinion in his Peary book's final chapter, it had
appeared extreme; however, that Amundsen has the first verifiable
claim to each pole is now the majority opinion among polar
experts.
Rawlins's
detailed report on Byrd's trip and on the competence of lingering
defenses of it was co-published in 2000 by the University of
Cambridge adding the new finding that Byrd's long-suppressed
original June 1926 report to the Secretary of the Navy and the
National Geographic Society contained alleged raw sextant readings
entirely given to 1" precision; it is uncontended that such
precision was not possible on Byrd's standard portable sextant and
that it contradicts his 1926 diary, where all sextant observations
are expressed to half or quarter arc-minute accuracy.
Scientific researches
Solar system dynamics
- Starting in 1967 Rawlins consistently contended that Pluto is far smaller than one earth-mass, the then
generally accepted gravitationally based figure, and that its
effects upon Uranus and Neptune must be effectively imperceptible
in the observational data of that day.
- At this time, he also recovered a lost 1714 observation of
Uranus the first addition to the list of pre-discovery planet
observations in over a century and the last of Uranus to date.
- In 1970, he extended the E. Brown transformation to discover
planetary perturbation's amplitude as a function of distance,
graphically and asymptotically.
- Two papers by Rawlins and Max Hammerton (University of
Cambridge) produced upper limits on the gravitationally permissible
masses of planets beyond Neptune, showing that exterior planets at
probable distances were far from giant, suggesting that the main
bodies of the solar system may end at
Neptune. which has since been found to be the case.
- Pointing to several resemblances of Pluto with Triton, Rawlins proposed in 1973 a mass of
Pluto which though too high eventually proved to be closest to the
truth among all estimates published by astronomers until the mass
of Pluto was accurately ascertained in 1978 through newly
discovered Charon's orbit.
- Rawlins and Myles Standish (J. P. L., California Inst. of
Techn.) showed in successive papers that the 1613 position of Neptune recorded by Galileo probably did not contradict modern
theory.
- Rawlins originated and programmed the standard method of
analytically determining the dimensions and axes of the solar tidal
ellipsoid produced by the combined gravitation of all the planets,
speculating that such analysis might also assist in explaining the
behavior of some irregular variable multiple stars.
- Starting in the early 1980s, Rawlins argued that the long
history of scholarly disagreements over which lunar eclipse reports from the classical era
were valid for gauging secular earth spin behavior was unnecessary,
since centuries of untroubled ancient use of the synodic lunar tables surviving in the Almagest showed that they could be employed as
an empirical average. He also suggested that the accuracy of the
Almagest tables of the synodic motion of Mars might offer a similar if less sensitive check of
modern theory.
- Rawlins has noted a peculiarity of the solar system which he
contends may contribute to solving its origin; the only two twin
pairs of planets are contiguous, relatively close to each other,
and their inner members are the only planets that rotate in
retrograde; the suggestion follows that Mercury and Pluto
(smallest and most eccentric of the traditional solar system's
planets) might be escaped satellites respectively of Venus and Neptune.
Atmospheric refraction
- In 1979, Rawlins developed and distributed the first non-series
formula for computing atmospheric
refraction from zenith to horizon to one percent relative
accuracy His altered argument method of simplifying computation of
refraction is now widely adopted.
- Soon after, he produced a similar compact formula for Rayleigh extinction.
- His further developments of formulas for atmospheric
refraction, and for Rayleigh, ozone, and aerosols extinction
appeared in the 1990s; later refined by Keith Pickering.
Antiquary and ancient position astronomy
- While attempting (1982-1991) to reconstruct Hipparchus's solar and lunar theories, Rawlins
showed that the length of the year preserved on the important
Babylonian System B astronomical cuneiform text BM55555 was based
upon well known Greek solstices and thereby
revealed the previously long disputed time of day of Hipparchus's
dawn June 26, 135 B. C. E. summer solstice. (Explicitly on the
basis of this proposal, BM55555 has since been placed on permanent
display at the British Museum.) This permits a rough check upon the
modern theory of the sun's motion independent of eclipses. Likewise
for Rawlins's reconstruction of Callippus's dawn June 28, 330 B. C. E.
solstice.
- While establishing (1987-94) the standard critical edition of
Tycho Brahe's catalogue of stars,
Rawlins noticed and incorporated the fact that Brahe's data were
consistent with virtually zero aerosols on the nights when dim
stars were observed, a finding which relates to current debates on
environmental degradation trends. This point was tested and made
conservatively quantitative by K. Pickering.
Ancient astronomy
In 1976, inspired by the pioneering researches of Johns Hopkins
physicist
Robert Newton, Rawlins began an extensive series of
probes of ancient astronomical questions. Among his and his
colleagues' findings and contentions:
- The
Great
Pyramid was probably oriented ca. 2600 B. C. E. by
using at winter solstice the star 10i
Draconis (previously unnoticed
in the ever accumulating pile of mostly dubious Great Pyramid
literature, which Rawlins facetiously calls "the Greater
Pyramid").
- Recognizing in two ancient lists of year lengths the oldest
surviving data in continued
fraction form, Rawlins proposed that these indicate that ca.
280 B. C. E., heliocentrist astronomer
Aristarchus of Samos discovered
precession over a century before
Hipparchus, deriving the same faulty 1° per century estimate later
adopted by the heretofore-accepted discoverer.
- The slim surviving calendar data associated with Aristarchus
suggest that he possessed and maybe originated the very accurate
so-called Babylonian month (29
days 12 hours 44 minutes 3⅓ seconds) decades before the earliest
known cuneiform hint of it.
- The accuracy of this estimate of the mean month's duration is
most convincingly explained by its having been (as stated in
Ptolemy's much questioned testimony) computationally based on the
uniquely stable eclipse cycle, 4267 synodic months = 4573 anomalistic months, which (dividing by 17)
generates the supposedly
Babylonian equation 251 synodic months = 269 anomalistic
months.
- Until the moon is greater than about 3° distant from quarter phase, curvature in its terminator cannot be discerned by the
unaided eye, so assuming Aristarchus knew the eye's limits (he is
said to have been a student of human vision) his famous 87°
elongation for half moon
makes more sense as not a precise angle but a lower bound.
- Aristyllus was long chronologically
grouped with fellow Alexandrian Timocharis (ca. 300 B. C. E.), the other earliest
known observer of star declinations, and
thus mis-dated about forty years early. His date was fixed by least
squares to ca. 260 B. C. E. , showing that his previously
denigrated accuracy was actually among the ancients' best. The same
analysis also finds Aristyllus's probable latitude, and shows that
his estimate of it was accurate to about 1'.
- The successive lunar distances of Hipparchus (ca. 140 B. C.
E.), 3144 and 3122½, heretofore elaborately investigated without satisfactory fit, can both be exactly
elicited in two lines of secondary school trigonometry, using
Aristarchus's 87° half moon elongation, and are consistent with a
hypothesis of ancient incorporation of heliocentrist astronomical
measure .
- Recognition of a mean longitude of the sun computed by
Hipparchus for May 2, 127 B. C. E., inadvertently preserved by
Ptolemy's careless plagiarism .
- Recovery of two lost Hipparchus orbits of the sun's motion, a
crude early one and a refined last one.
- Proposing that the central equation of Babylon's System A, 6247
synodic months = 6695 anomalistic months, was based on an eclipse
relation about 1010 years long, from just dividing by 2 the 12,494
months elapsed between then contemporary lunar eclipses and
corresponding very ancient, now lost Babylonian lunar eclipse
reports. Pairs of eclipses thus separated are so infrequent that
the only two available to the Seleukid empire which birthed System
A were November 23, 1292 versus January 16, 281 and December 5,
1274 versus January 26, 263 B. C. E. The earliest certain System A
cuneiform tablet is dated to 263 B. C. E.
- Among indications of Hipparchus's early use of spherical trigonometry are his
climata, his tables for parallax, and a 1994 proposed solution of the
long-vexing source of atypical randomness of fractional endings of
the southern longitudes in Hipparchus's stellar catalogue.
- There
is a hitherto submerged problem with Otto Neugebauer's and other
panBabylonianists' long reigning conventional belief that Ptolemy
mis-attributed the extremely accurate equation 5458 synodic months = 5923
draconitic months to Hipparchus
instead of to declining Babylon's astrologers, since the only explicitly
dated cuneiform tablet computationally based upon this ratio is
from 103 B. C. E., which is after Hipparchus.
- The 5458 month equation in question could have been found by
dividing 5/2 into the large apogee-perigee eclipse relation 13,645
synodic months = 14,807½ draconitic months, which is 14,623½
anomalistic months long or about 1103 years. Exceptionally, one of
Hipparchus's few surviving eclipse records, January 27, 141 B. C.
E., will work with this equation. The equation is cited to him by
Ptolemy, and Hipparchus is the only astronomer known ever to have
used an apogee-perigee eclipse relation (half integral in anomaly);
but no record survives today of the required prior eclipse of
November 13, 1245 B. C. E. or indeed of any other eclipse even
nearly this ancient.
- The planetary data of Pliny are
inconsistent with geocentric astronomy but compatible with
heliocentric astronomy.
- Elementary and undisputed chronological evidence shows that
Ptolemy's adoption of his orbital parameters was not based upon his
purported empirical justification of them.
- Persistent doubts of the -7.5° remainder for the 4267 month
eclipse relation (see above) underlying the canonical ancient
tables of the moon's mean motion are found to be based upon
previous investigators' failure to use the appropriate anomalistic year when computationally checking it.
- Ptolemy's remarkably accurate last lunisolar equation (ca. 160
C. E.), 8523 Metonic years = 105,416
synodic months, is consistent to its full high precision with
having been intelligently based upon the 781 sidereal year cycle by
which eclipses return to the same star.
- To explain Ptolemy's final equation, 3277 synodic months = 3512
anomalistic months, Rawlins resorted to proposing that it was based
upon dividing by 5 an eclipse cycle that is longer than any ever
considered as used by ancient Greek astronomers, 16,385 months or
about 1,325 years. Parallel to the 13,645 month Rawlins proposal
cited above, umbral eclipses recorded by
Ptolemy in his era happen to have occurred 16,385 months after
prior umbral eclipses, e. g., those of July 11, 1201 B. C. E. and
June 12, 1190 B. C. E.; but there are no surviving records of the
much earlier events.
- Though Rawlins's calculations are not disputed, most historians
do not accept that eclipse data as early as 1292-1190 B. C. E. were
known to the hypothesized classical era discoverers of eclipse
cycles 1010, 1103, and 1325 years long. They are certain that there
is no significance in the coincidence that all three of Rawlins's
unambiguous cyclic reconstructions (directly from
centuries-separated classical data) via ancients' standard
methodology, point to their use of eclipse data from the same slice
of time, the 13th century B. C. E.
- Generalizing beyond these still quite controversial cyclic
hypothese, Rawlins proposed in 2002 the inclusive theory that all
mean motions adopted by genuine ancient astronomers (moon and
planets, as well as the sun's sidereal motion) were based upon the
simple, reliable, and anciently well attested method of observing
and counting integral cycles. When Rawlins in 1980 first questioned
centuries of orthodoxy on this issue by imperfectly proposing that
all five planets' Almagest mean motions were based on
cycles, the idea continued for over 20 years to be not acceptable
to historians. In 2003 its truth became undisputed, following A.
Jones's unexpected discoveries.
- Rawlins was also long involved in the now concluded controversy over the
origin of the star catalogue in the
Almagest, discovering strong mechanical and statistical
evidence that Hipparchus was the catalogue's primary observer, as
had been obvious to most astronomers since Brahe's 1598 accusation
that Ptolemy had usurped it.
Ancient geography
From 1979 to the present, Rawlins has intermittently pursued
ancient geographical investigations. Results:
- Verified, sharpened, and expanded the data base and fit of
Aubrey Diller's important 1934 discovery that Strabo's list of Hipparchus's climata (longest day
correlated to latitude) are based upon spherical trigonometry in
the earliest period to which this branch of mathematics can be
traced .
- Discovered and refined a potential common solution to both
erroneous ancient earth circumferences, 29000 and 21000 statute
miles (the two values used successively by Ptolemy and other
ancient mathematicians), suggesting that the former was based upon
observations of mountaintop dip or light-house distance visibility,
the latter upon multiple sunsets, thus both were corrupted by
horizontal light rays' curvature which is 1/6 of the Earth's
curvature.
- Calculated to 1' precision that Eratosthenes's serious errors for obliquity and for the latitudes of Alexandria and
Rhodes could all three be explained as arising from one source, his
use of an asymmetric gnomon for his famous
altitude of the noon sun at the summer solstice.
- Showed that Strabo's chart of the Nile river is consistent with
being the earliest surviving map in spherical coordinates .
- Restoring an ancient scribal error in which 105 ("cv") feet was
misread as 100 vnciae ("c v"), Pliny's "circuli" are solvable as a
Roman linear fit to an ancient climata table for a Mediterranean
interval of latitudes (Greenwich centenary
symposium, 1984)
- The list of cities' equinoctial ratios
of a gnomon's height to its shadow's length given by Vitruvius is a fit within approximately 1' to a
climata table .
- The
Giza pyramids, Amarna's Great Aten
Temple, Karnak, and Biga Island (legendary sacred tomb of Osiris) lie upon
latitudes equal to unit fractions of a circle, respectively 1/12,
1/13, 1/14, and 1/15 which if not a coincidence might imply early
Egyptian realization that the earth is round. Rawlins's only
venture into the speculative area of archaeoastronomy.
- In 2006, DIO Editor Dennis Duke published online
preeminent Indiana University classicist-philologist Aubrey
Diller's edition of the final portion of Ptolemy's "Geographia", book eight, in which sites are
purposefully positioned by hours, not degrees as in books 2 through
7. Appended is an afterward by Rawlins, to whom Diller had
bequeathed the manuscript.
- Rawlins soon after posted (2006 and 2007) the results and
theories that had arisen during his own researches into the
"Geographia":
- Redating Marinus of Tyre,
Ptolemy's cited source for the bulk of the work.
- Tyre is absent from book 8, so Marinus did not author that
distinct portion of the "Geographia".
- The
traditional equation of the Blessed Islands with the Canary Islands
is suspect, since the earliest extant maps of the "Geographia" show
islands at 0° longitude that are much more consistent with the
location of the Cape Verde Islands.
- Primary cities' "Geographia" latitudes show errors many times
larger than ancient astronomers' knowledge of their geographical
latitudes because the former were computed by spherical
trigonometry from astrological manuals' crudely rounded
climata.
- Sign errors in latitude are proposed as the cause of ancient
maps' elimination of the Pacific Ocean.
Publishing controversy
In the 1980s, Rawlins had a major dispute with Michael Hoskin,
editor of the
Journal for the History of Astronomy, over
the quality and equity of refereeing standards at the
J.
H. A.. Rawlins in 1991 founded his own journal,
DIO, the International Journal of Scientific History.
Since founding
DIO, Rawlins has used its pages both as an
outlet for work and as a forum to lampoon his rivals.
External links
- http://www.dioi.org/cot.htm DIO online, a compact compendium of
several hundred of Rawlins's contributions.
- Starbaby by Dennis Rawlins, originally published in
Fate Magazine, October 1981
Articles in opposition to Rawlins's contentions
Notes
- New York Times, May 9, 1996, page 1
- Robert Headland, Scott Polar Research
Institute
- Peter Matthiessen, End of the
Earth, National Geographic Society, 2003, page 197
- Richard
Sale and Madeleine Lewis, Explorers, Smithsonian,
2005, page 34
- Scott Polar Research Institute, Polar Record, volume
36, pages 25-50, January, 2000
- R. Goerler, To the Pole, Ohio State University,
1998
- Astronomical Journal, 1970
- M. N. Roy. Astr. Soc., 1970 & 1973
- Publ. Astr. Soc. Pacific, 1968
- M. N. Roy. Astr. Soc., 1970
- Nature, 1972, M. N. Roy. Astr. Soc.,
1973
- M. N. Roy. Astr. Soc.
- Nature, 1982
- Geophysical J. Roy. Astr. Soc., 1982, Sky and
Telescope, May, 2000, page 14
- American Journal of Physics, 1987
- E. g., Publ. Astr. Soc. Pacific, 1982
- Vistas in Astronomy, 1985
- Publ. Astr. Soc. Pacific, 1982
- H. Thurston, Isis, volume 93, pages 58-69, 2002, page
62
- Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2001,
volume 2, page 1136
- DIO, volume 1, number 1, 1991
- Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society,
1985
- Rawlins and K. Pickering, Nature, volume 412, page
699, August 16, 2001
- Alter Orient und Altes Testament, volume 297, pages
295-296, 2002
- Isis, volume 73, pages 259-265, 1982, page 263;
Rawlins's date for Aristyllus was confirmed by Y. Maeyama,
Centaurus, volume 27, pages 280-310, 1984.
- Thurston, op. cit., page 60. Note that Rawlins's
unhistorical derivation on ibid pages 61-62 has been
withdrawn] by him in favor of Alexander Jones's correct
solution.
- Thurston, op. cit., pages 65-66
- Ibid, pages 66-67
- Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics, volume 2,
page 1136
- Almagest, book 6, part 9
- American Journal of Physics, 1987, page 238
- Ibid, pages 236-7 item#5 (Mercury);
- E. g., American Journal of Physics, 1987
- Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, volume
94, pp.359-373, Figure 2, 1982
- Ibid, Tables III and IV;
- Delambre,
History of Ancient Astronomy, Paris, 1817, volume 2, page
284
- The standard edition of Ptolemy's star catalogue by
C. H. F.
Peters & E. Knobel, Carnegie Institute of Washington,
1915
- J. L. E.
Dreyer, Tycho's Opera Omnia, Copenhagen, 1913-1929,
volume 3, page 337
- Thurston, op. cit., page 67
- E. g., American Journal of Physics, 1979
- Isis, 1982
- Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 1982
- Thurston, op. cit., page 66
- Idem
References