History of Astronomy : Acta Historica Astronomiae : Vol. 3

Three traps in stellar aberration

Dierck-E. Liebscher, Potsdam, Peter Brosche, Daun


The effect of aberration seems to be one of the simplest in astronomical observations. Nevertheless, it has a long and pertaining history of misunderstanding and wrong interpretation. In the time just before the advent of the theory of relativity, aberration and drag of the aether (as found in Michelson`s experiment) are interpreted as contradiction. This contradiction vanishes with the theory of relativity. More obstinate is the misunderstanding that the aberration depends on the relative velocity of source and observer. In the twenties, some physicists and astronomers believed that the consequences of such a relativity, wrongly supposed but never found, would constitute a firm argument against Einstein`s theory (Hayn, Tomaschek, Osten, v. Brunn, Courvoisier, Mohorovicic). History forgot their argument, but it is difficult to find a correct explanation of their error (Emden). Instead, the subject is forgotten, and one can conjecture it because of the political side of the argument. This attitude takes its revenge: Misunderstandings are still handed down from textbook to textbook.

For an extended abstract with additional references and the poster see here.

For a longer paper by the same authors on this item see: Relativity and aberration, Astron. Nachr. 319 (1998), 309-318.

Bibliographical details:

Dierck-E. Liebscher, Peter Brosche: Three traps in stellar aberration. In: Peter Brosche, Wolfgang R. Dick, Oliver Schwarz, Roland Wielen (Eds.): The Message of the Angles - Astrometry from 1798 to 1998. Proceedings of the International Spring Meeting of the Astronomische Gesellschaft, Gotha, May 11-15, 1998. (Acta Historica Astronomiae ; 3). Thun ; Frankfurt am Main : Deutsch, 1998, p. 96-99.

Html-Version: Wolfgang R. Dick. Created: 21 Jan 1999