Letter: Celestial spheres

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The Independent Culture
Sir: John Gribbin in his review of Eclipse (Monday Book, 5 July) remarks that "the astronomy behind eclipses belongs to possibly the most boring byway in the whole of science: celestial mechanics".

As a planetary scientist who has spent his academic life studying the movements of bodies in the solar system, I believe that celestial mechanics belongs to the highway rather than the byway of science. Using celestial mechanics we can now understand why the Moon keeps the same face towards the Earth, why Jupiter's moon Io has active volcanoes and why Mercury may one day collide with Venus.

John Gribbin must have found his biographies of Newton and Einstein extremely tedious to write given these scientists' profound contributions to celestial mechanics.

CARL MURRAY

Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy

Queen Mary and Westfield College, London

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