© 2015

Celestial Shadows

Eclipses, Transits, and Occultations


Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 410)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xxiv
  2. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 1-19
  3. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 21-42
  4. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 43-74
  5. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 75-95
  6. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 97-148
  7. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 149-183
  8. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 185-240
  9. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 241-253
  10. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 255-269
  11. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 271-287
  12. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 289-322
  13. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 323-343
  14. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 345-359
  15. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 361-405
  16. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 407-430
  17. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 431-436
  18. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 437-456
  19. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 457-486
  20. John Westfall, William Sheehan
    Pages 487-506

About this book


Much of what is known about the universe comes from the study of celestial shadows—eclipses, transits, and occultations.  The most dramatic are total eclipses of the Sun, which constitute one of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring events of nature.  Though once a source of consternation or dread, solar eclipses now lead thousands of amateur astronomers and eclipse-chasers to travel to remote points on the globe to savor their beauty and the adrenaline-rush of experiencing totality, and were long the only source of information about the hauntingly beautiful chromosphere and corona of the Sun.  

Long before Columbus, the curved shadow of the Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse revealed that we inhabit a round world. The rare and wonderful transits of Venus, which occur as it passes between the Earth and the Sun, inspired eighteenth century expeditions to measure the distance from the Earth to the Sun, while the recent transits of 2004 and 2012 were the most widely observed ever--and still produced results of great scientific value.  Eclipses, transits and occultations involving the planets, their satellites, asteroids and stars have helped astronomers to work out the dimensions and shapes of celestial objects—even, in some cases, hitherto unsuspected rings or atmospheres—and now transits have become leading tools for discovering and analyzing planets orbiting other stars.

This book is a richly illustrated account of these dramatic and instructive astronomica

l phenomena. Westfall and Sheehan have produced a comprehensive study that includes historical details about past observations of celestial shadows, what we have learned from them, and how present-day observers—casual or serious—can get the most out of their own observations.                                                          


Celestial shadows Lunar eclipses Occultation of stars Planetary occultation Solar eclipse Transits and astronomy Transits of Mercury Transits of Venus Transits of exoplanets

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Association of Lunar and Planetary ObserversAntiochUSA
  2. 2.WillmarUSA

About the authors

William Sheehan has written many books on astronomy, including: Planets and Perception (1988), The Immortal Fire Within: the life and work of Edward Emerson Barnard (1995), The Planet Mars (1996), In Search of Planet Vulcan (with Richard Baum; 1997), Epic Moon (with Thomas Dobbins; 2001), and Transits of Venus (with John Westfall; 2004). He is a consultant to the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Planetary System Nomenclature, a Special Research Fellow in history of astronomy at the Lowell Observatory, a contributing editor to Sky & Telescope magazine and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He is also past fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and a recipient of the Gold Medal of the Oriental Astronomical Association. Asteroid no. 16037 has been named Sheehan in his honor by the I.A.U.

With Springer, he has published a translation of James Lequeux’s biography of the French astronomer U.J.J. Leverrier: Le Verrier—Magnificent and Detestable Astronomer (with Bernard Sheehan; 2013); Galactic Encounters (with Chris Conselice; 2014); and a translation of Camille Flammarion’s The Planet Mars (with the late Sir Patrick Moore; 2014).

Professionally, William Sheehan is a psychiatrist. He is married, with two sons. He divides his time between his psychiatric and astronomical activities and between homes in Willmar, Minnesota and Flagstaff, Arizona. Among Sheehan’s most recent observations have been those of Venus’s atmosphere made at Lowell Observatory, during the transit of Venus of June 5-6, 2012, as a member of the international Venus Twilight Experiment.

For most of his life a denizen of the Bay Area, Dr. Westfall majored in geography at the University of California, Berkeley (BA 1960) and the George Washington University (MA 1964, PhD 1969). Employed by the (then) Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1961-64, he joined the faculty of San Francisco State University's Department of Geography and Human Environmental Studies in 1968, teaching courses in quantitative and historical geography and remote sensing, retiring in 2005.

Dr. Westfall's interest in astronomy dates back to the late 1940s, when he joined the Eastbay Astronomical Society, becoming a member of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO) in 1953. He currently serves on the ALPO board of directors and is the coordinator of its Mercury/Venus Transit Section and an assistant coordinator in its Jupiter Section (Galilean satellite events). He has authored the book Atlas of the Lunar Terminator (Cambridge) and coauthored Transits of Venus (Prometheus) with William Sheehan. He has chased 12 total solar eclipses, three annular eclipses and three planetary transits (plus two from home). Dr. Westfall currently observes lunar eclipses, asteroid occultations of stars, and Jupiter satellite eclipses from his backyard in the relatively clear skies of Antioch, his favorite telescopes being a C14 and a C5.                                                                                                                                   


Bibliographic information

  • Book Title Celestial Shadows
  • Book Subtitle Eclipses, Transits, and Occultations
  • Authors John Westfall
    William Sheehan
  • Series Title Astrophysics and Space Science Library
  • Series Abbreviated Title Astrophysics, Space Sci.
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information Springer-Verlag New York 2015
  • Publisher Name Springer, New York, NY
  • eBook Packages Physics and Astronomy Physics and Astronomy (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-1-4939-1534-7
  • Softcover ISBN 978-1-4939-3971-8
  • eBook ISBN 978-1-4939-1535-4
  • Series ISSN 0067-0057
  • Series E-ISSN 2214-7985
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XXIV, 713
  • Number of Illustrations 228 b/w illustrations, 11 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology
    Popular Science in Astronomy
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


Selected by Choice magazine as an "Outstanding Academic Title" for 2015

“In Celestial Shadows, westfall … summarize all the ways in which observational astronomers and planetary scientists use eclipses, transits, and occultations to study distant objects. … This 22-chapter book collects in one place such a tremendous amount of information that it will be very useful, in particular, to those who wish to learn about how these events have previously allowed and continue to allow scientists to study solar system objects in unique ways. … Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.” (C. Palma, Choice, Vol. 52 (10), June, 2015)                      

“The authors explain the astronomy, how to make observations, flag up future events, and link them to a rich history in which such observations contributed to significant developments in astronomy. … this work is as good a place as any for amateur astronomers to begin engagement with a history that takes them beyond the usual accounts of heroes and moments of discovery and makes a useful resource for historians and educators.” (Rebekah Higgitt, Journal for the History of Astronomy, Vol. 47 (4), November, 2016)