Article ID: CBB000771301

So Simple a Thing as a Star: The Eddington--Jeans Debate over Astrophysical Phenomenology (2007)


Theoretical astrophysics emerged as a significant research programme with the construction of a series of stellar models by A. S. Eddington. This paper examines the controversies surrounding those models as a way of understanding the development and justification of new theoretical technologies. In particular, it examines the challenges raised against Eddington by James Jeans, and explores how the two astronomers championed different visions of what it meant to do science. Jeans argued for a scientific method based on certainty and completeness, whereas Eddington called for a method that valued exploration and further investigation, even at the sake of secure foundations. The first generation of stellar models depended on the validity of Eddington's approach -- the physics and many of the basic facts of stars were poorly understood and he justified his models through their utility for future research and their robustness under challenging use. What would become theoretical astrophysics depended heavily on this phenomenological outlook, which Jeans dismissed as not even science. This was a dispute about the practice of theory, and it would be this methodological debate (rather than the emergence of new facts or the incorporation of new theory) that made theoretical astrophysics viable.

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Authors & Contributors
Wesemael, François
Cenadelli, Davide
Whitworth, Michael H.
Sponsel, Alistair William
Batten, Alan H.
Hufbauer, Karl
Journal for the History of Astronomy
British Journal for the History of Science
Public Historian
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Cambridge University Press
Harvard University
Carleton University (Canada)
Harvard University Press
Pavia University Press
Stars; stellar astronomy
Science and religion
Eddington, Arthur Stanley
Chandrasekhar, Subrahmanyan
Jeans, James Hopwood
Whitehead, Alfred North
Dyson, Freeman John
Bethe, Hans Albrecht
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century
19th century
21st century
20th century, late
18th century
Royal Observatory Greenwich
Cambridge University
University of Leeds
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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