Home Physics Hundreds of copies of Newton’s Principia found, how to cross stitch a...

Hundreds of copies of Newton’s Principia found, how to cross stitch a black hole – Physics World


PrincipiaPrincipia is owned by Caltech. In the 18th century, it belonged to French mathematician and natural philosopher Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, whose signature can be seen in the left margin of the title page. More recently, it was in the collection of Caltech physicist Earnest Watson. (Courtesy: Caltech Archives)”>
Marginalia: this copy of Principia is owned by Caltech. In the 18th century, it belonged to French mathematician and natural philosopher Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, whose signature can be seen in the left margin of the title page. More recently, it was in the collection of Caltech physicist Earnest Watson. (Courtesy: Caltech Archives)

I think few would argue that Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica is the most famous book ever written about physics. First published in 1687, the tome outlines Newton’s laws of motion and universal gravitation – which underline much of modern physics.

Now, Caltech’s Moti Feingold and Andrej Svorenčík of the University of Mannheim have scoured the planet for first-edition copies of Principia and discovered nearly 200 more than were previously listed in a census done in 1953. This brings the total of known first editions to 386, out of 600–750 copies that are believed to have been printed.

The duo spent more than a decade tracing and studying copies of the book. By looking at ownership marks and notes scribbled in the margins of some of the books – as well as related letters and other documents – they have concluded that Newton’s masterpiece has been more widely read than previously thought.

“One of the realizations we’ve had,” says Feingold, “is that the transmission of the book and its ideas was far quicker and more open than we assumed, and this will have implications on the future work that we and others will be doing on this subject”.

Stolen copy

Some of the newly-identified copies were found “behind the Iron Curtain” in eastern European countries that were not accessible to those doing the 1953 census. The team even found a stolen copy of the book, which can fetch as much as $3m at auction, but unfortunately the owner did not act quickly enough to recover it.

You can read more in Caltech News.

As the nights draw in here in the northern hemisphere and COVID-19 restrictions become tighter, cross stitching could be the ideal hobby to keep the gloom at bay.

Physics has a lovely article called “Pixels to stitches: embroidering astronomy images”, which looks back on five decades of cross-stitching astronomical images. Author Erika Carlson explains why cross stitching is a perfect medium for capturing the beauty of space. The article is illustrated with the work of embroiderers including Adi Foord, an astrophysicist at Stanford University, who has reproduced that iconic image of a black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope.

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