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I am reading my college/undergraduate level astronomy textbook. It has lots of ínfomation but every page raises a similar question in my mind: "How do they know it?". It starts from simple things like radius of Earth, other planets, masses, composition, distances of stars, temperatures, luminosities etc. "How do scientists know/determine these facts?" is a question that pops up in my mind about every fact I have read. Do you have any book recommendations which mostly (if not exclusively) focuses on the question "How do scientists know it?"

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    $\begingroup$ A book on the history of astronomy, perhaps? $\endgroup$
    – usernumber
    Nov 26, 2019 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is often a blind spot of science communication. Most books (and most school curricula for that matter) are focused on "Here's a bunch of facts we know" and not "Here's how we figured that out". To be fair the 'how we figured it out' stuff is often a lot more dry than the bare facts, but it's still an important aspect to communicate. $\endgroup$
    – Ingolifs
    Nov 26, 2019 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me of the slogan of the Astronomycast podcast: "... where we tell you not just what we know, but how we know that we know it." $\endgroup$
    – user1569
    Nov 26, 2019 at 11:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Ingolifs I don't agree that it is necessarily more dry than bare facts. Much the contrary! Discoveries involve trial and error, and humans. Telling these stories of discovery can be just as interesting the discoveries themselves. $\endgroup$
    – usernumber
    Nov 29, 2019 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ The history of the sciences is typically at least so complex, as the sciences themselves. This is why they did not write it in the books you've read. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Dec 9, 2019 at 22:43

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There are books that treat the general history of astronomy, such as those mentioned in the previous post.

Some books focus on discoveries from a certain period of history

  • The Cosmic Century by Malcolm S. Longair details discoveries that were made in the twentieth century.

Other books retrace the "how we know it" of specific phenomena

  • Flash by Govert Schilling traces the story of how we discovered what we know about gamma ray bursts.

  • Cosmic noise : a history of early radio astronomy, by Sullivan, Woodruff Turner III focuses on what we learned from radio astronomy.

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You could try The History of Astronomy: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Hoskin. Or, for a more detailed but more expensive textbook, The Cambridge Concise History of Astronomy edited by Michael Hoskin.

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If you wanted to focus on one discovery that changed the world, I would suggest "Longitude" by Dava Sobel. It shows how something that could be dry - how navigators discovered what longitude was - is in fact a page-turning detective story. It was also made into a movie.

Longitude

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