Alan W. Hirshfeld, Ph.D.

Alan W. HirshfeldProfessor

  • Ph.D. in Astronomy, Yale, 1978
  • M.S. in Astronomy, Yale, 1975
  • B.A. in Astrophysics, Princeton University, 1973

Contact information

  • Send Email
  • Phone: 508.999.8715
  • Fax: 508.999.9115
  • Office: Group II Building, Room 208B


Prof. Alan Hirshfeld conducts research in the history of physics and astronomy. He is the author of "Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos," published by Henry Holt & Co. in 2002, "The Electric Life of Michael Faraday," published by Walker & Co. in 2006, and the "Astronomy Activity and Laboratory Manual," published by Jones & Bartlett Publishers in 2008. He is currently writing a book on the life and work of Archimedes, the greatest mathematician of antiquity. He has also recently written articles on the history of astrophysics for Sky & Telescope magazine, on ancient Greek measurement of the solar system for The Mathematics Teacher magazine, and on astronomer James Bradley for BBC History magazine. Hirshfeld is the director of the UMass Dartmouth Observatory and has been named an Associate of the Harvard College Observatory.

Areas of interest

  • Astrophysics
  • Hist. of Science

Selected publications


  • Eureka Man: The Life, Legend and Legacy of Archimedes. New York: Walker & Co., in progress, to be published 2009.

  • Astronomy Activity and Laboratory Manual. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers, in press, Summer 2008.

  • The Electric Life of Michael Faraday. New York: Walker & Co., 2006.

  • Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos, New York: W. H. Freeman, 2001 (hardcover); Henry Holt & Co., 2002 (paperback). Main selection of the Astronomy Book Club; Astronomical Society of the Pacific "Book of Note"; Editor's Choice Award, Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology.

Lead author of two standard reference books in astronomy:

  • Sky Catalogue 2000.0, Vol. 1: Stars to Magnitude 8.0, with R. W. Sinnott (1982); and 2nd revised edition, with R. W. Sinnott and F. Ochsenbein (1991), Cambridge University Press and Sky Publishing Corp.

  • Sky Catalogue 2000.0, Vol. 2: Double Stars, Variable Stars and Nonstellar Objects, with R. W. Sinnott (1985), Cambridge University Press and Sky Publishing Corp.

Articles and other publications

  • "William Harkness," "Warren de la Rue," "Thomas Henderson," "James Bradley," "Matthew Stewart," five invited articles in Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomy, Hockey, Thomas, ed. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, in press.

  • "The Turbulent Lens (history of optical glassmaking)." Lost online magazine, No. 11 (December 2006).

  • "Science vs. Spiritualism." BBC History Magazine, 7 (March 2006) 20-21.

  • "The Universe in the Mirror," Sky and Telescope, 109 (February 2005), 44-50.

  • "Detektive des Sternelichts" ("Starlight Detectives"), Astronomie Heute / Astronomy Today (December 2004), 22-28.

  • "How Wonderfully We Stand Upon This World," Science & Spirit, 15 (November-December 2004), 52-57.

  • "Das Wettrennen um die Vermessung des Universums" ("The Race to Measure the Cosmos"), Astronomie Heute / Astronomy Today (October 2004), 22-27.

  • "Starlight Detectives: The Birth of Celestial Spectroscopy," Sky & Telescope, 108 (August 2004), 44-49.

  • "The Triangles of Aristarchus," The Mathematics Teacher, 97 (April 2004), 228-231.

  • "Picturing the Heavens: The Rise of Celestial Photography in the 19th Century," Sky & Telescope, 107 (April 2004), 36-42.

  • "Behold, the Cosmic Light of the Ages," Boston Globe (September 2002).

  • "Revealing the Universe" (book review), Isis, 93 (September 2002), 523.

  • "Wobbling the Cosmos," BBC History Magazine, 3 (April 2002), 30-34.

  • "The Race to Measure the Cosmos" (cover article), Sky & Telescope, 102 (November 2001), 38-45.

  • "The Absolute Magnitudes of Stars," Sky & Telescope, 88 (1994), 35-36.

  • "ESSCO Series Star Charts," series of 13 computer-generated star charts for Year 2000 and Year 0, Sky Publishing Corporation (1992).

  • "Astronomy," with J. K. Beatty and D. H. Smith, in Almanac of Science and Technology, Harcourt-Brace-Jovanovich (1990).

  • "Out of the Cradle: Exploring the Frontier Beyond Earth" (book review), American Scientist, 76 (1986), 197.

  • "Laboratory Exercises in Astronomy: How Far is the Galactic Center?" Sky & Telescope, 68 (1984) 518-522.

  • "Sky Catalogue 2000.0 Bulletin," with Roger Sinnott, Sky & Telescope, 67 (1984), 521.

  • "Astronomy for the Inquiring Mind" (book review), American Scientist, 72 (1984), 78.

  • "Webb Society Deep-Sky Observer's Handbook, Vol. 5: Clusters of Galaxies" (book review), American Scientist, 71 (1983), 532.

  • "The Practical Astronomer" (book review), American Scientist, 70 (1982), 213.

  • "Inside Dwarf Galaxies," Sky & Telescope, 59 (1980), 287-90.

  • "The Stellar Content of Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxies," Astrophysical Journal, 241 (1980), 111-115.

  • "Measurements of Abundances and Ages of Old Disk Clusters," with R. D. McClure and B. A. Twarog, in The HR Diagram, A. G. D. Philip and D. S. Hayes, editors. Dordrecht, Holland: Reidel, 163; presented at the 80th Symposium of the International Astronomical Union, Washington, D.C. (1977).

  • "Weighing the Galaxies -- An Impossible Task?" Yale Scientific Magazine, 51 (1976), 3-6.

  • "On the Nature of the Bright Variables in Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxies," with P. Demarque, Astrophysical Journal, 202 (1975), 346-350.

  • "Column Densities of Interstellar Molecular Hydrogen," with L. Spitzer and W. Cochran, Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, No. 266 (1974).

  • "The Leviathan of Parsonstown -- An Amateur Astronomer's Dream," Griffith Observer, 38 (1974), 2-5. Second prize winner in the Griffith Observatory/Hughes Aircraft Co. national essay competition.