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Bickerton, Alexander William (1842–1929)




Somewhat eccentric New Zealand astronomer who revived the catastrophic hypothesis of the origin of the Solar System, first suggested by Buffon, by proposing that the planets were produced when the Sun underwent a grazing impact with another star. In 1926 Bickerton exposed the limits of his predictive powers when, commenting on the prospects for space exploration, he wrote that:
This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists working in thought-tight compartments... For a projectile entirely to escape the gravitation of the Earth, it needs a velocity of 7 miles a second. The thermal energy of a gram at this speed is 15,180 calories... The energy of our most violent explosive – nitroglycerin – is less than 1,500 calories per gram. Consequently, even had the explosive nothing to carry, it has only one tenth of the energy necessary to escape the Earth... Hence the proposition appears basically impossible...

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   • ASTRONOMERS AND ASTROPHYSICISTS