John Wenz's THE LOST PLANETS (in convo w/ Ingrid Ockert)

Please join us for a reading and discussion with

John Wenz
—author of—
The Lost Planets: Peter van de Kamp and the Vanishing Exoplanets Around Barnard's Star

who will be in conversation with
Ingrid Ockert of the Science History Institute


A fascinating account of the pioneering astronomer who claimed (erroneously) to have discovered a planet outside the solar system.

There are innumerable planets revolving around innumerable stars across our galaxy. Between 2009 and 2018, NASA's Kepler space telescope discovered thousands of them. But exoplanets—planets outside the solar system—appeared in science fiction before they appeared in telescopes. Astronomers in the early decades of the twentieth century spent entire careers searching for planets in other stellar systems. In The Lost Planets, John Wenz offers an account of the pioneering astronomer Peter van de Kamp, who was one of the first to claim discovery of exoplanets.

Van de Kamp, working at Swarthmore College's observatory, announced in 1963 that he had identified a planet around Barnard's Star, the second-closest star system to the Sun. He cited the deviations in Barnard's star's path—“wobbles” that suggested a large object was lurching around the star. Van de Kamp became something of a celebrity (appearing on a television show with “Mr. Wizard,” Don Henry), but subsequent research did not support his claims. Wenz describes van de Kamp's stubborn refusal to accept that he was wrong, discusses the evidence found by other researchers, and explains recent advances in exoplanet detection, including transit, radial velocity, direct imaging, and microlensing.

Van de Kamp retired from Swarthmore in 1972, and died in 1995 at 93. In 2009, Swarthmore named its new observatory the Peter van de Kamp Observatory. In the 1990s, astronomers discovered and confirmed the first planet outside our solar system. In 2018, an exoplanet was detected around Barnard's Star—not, however, the one van de Kamp thought he had discovered in 1963.

JOHN WENZ is Digital Producer at Knowable Magazine. His writing has appeared in publications including Scientific AmericanDiscoverNew ScientistDaily BeastVice MagazineWired, and the Atlantic.

INGRID OCKERT is a historian of science and media in the 20th century. While at the Science History Institute, she’ll be working on her book project The Scientific Storytellers: How Educators, Scientists, and Actors Televised Science, a close study of these professional creative collaborations.

Ingrid holds a PhD from the History of Science Program at Princeton University. Previously, she ran a lecture series for Princeton’s Council on Science. She has collaborated with Oregon Public Broadcasting, WGBH, WHYY, and WPRB. Ingrid’s work has been supported with grants from the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center, NASA, and AmeriCorps. She also serves as a cochair for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting’s Scholarly Advisory Committee.


Event date: 
Friday, November 1, 2019 - 6:00pm to 7:30pm
Event address: 
Penn Book Center
130 S. 34th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
The Lost Planets: Peter Van de Kamp and the Vanishing Exoplanets Around Barnard's Star Cover Image
By John Wenz, Corey S. Powell (Foreword by)
ISBN: 9780262042864
Availability: Available to Ship
Published: MIT Press - October 8th, 2019