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The Measure of Things

31 Jul 2017, 14:00 UTC
The Measure of Things
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Title: The Analytical Theory of HeatAuthor: Joseph Fourier, translated by Alexander FreemanStatus: Published 1822, English translation published 1878 [open access]Today’s recent astronomy paper is a 200-year-old, 500-page book about heat flow. This arguably stretches the bounds of what’s astrobiteable, even for our Classics section, but I say it counts because a) 200 years ago is recent compared to the age of the Universe, and b) books are printed on paper, so no one can tell me this isn’t a paper. And if you’re looking for important developments in astronomy, it’s hard to do better than this! It’s the first major work by Joseph Fourier, who made all kinds of important contributions to math, physics, and, strangely, Egyptology. In chapter 4 of this book, he writes down an equation for heat flow that is still the first partial differential equation that most physicists ever learn to analyze. In chapter 3, he straight-up invents Fourier series, which astronomers use to study signals that change over time, from pulsating stars to black holes circling each other.Figure 1. Mathematicians Adrien-Marie Legendre (left) and Joseph Fourier (right). Legendre, who worked on equations in spherical coordinates, was famously jealous of Fourier’s perfectly spherical head.But I’m actually ...

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