Book 209: The New Cosmos by David J. Eicher

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The New Cosmos: Answering Astronomy’s Big Questions by David J. Eicher

Finished reading on April 16th, 2016

Rating: 9/10

There are certain topics that you end up against now and again when for example dealing with young children at an observatory – you can be sure that someone will ask about black holes, someone might ask why Pluto isn’t a planet etc. This book pretty much also answers anything that an intelligent person who’s slightly interested in astronomy might ask or want to know about.

In that sense it’s an excellent book – it doesn’t make things too simple and short, but rather goes into quite a bit of depth about the history behind some of the topics – the size and shape of the Milky Way, the end of the Universe etc.

In this book you get a decent amount of information that should be enough for a first contact with astronomy.

I thought that the big questions have been chosen well – couldn’t think of anything more that really would have to be in there, nor was there anything that you’d really not need to know.

I’m sure it’s great reading if you only ever choose to read one book about astronomy. However if you keep up to date with astronomy news and literature anyway, then this book is more of a reminder of who were/are the people behind some of the knowledge we now have about the universe.

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I did have fun reading this book right after finishing Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. The biggest difference was that while reading Cosmos I could hear it in Sagan’s voice and that in The New Cosmos I wasn’t thinking “…but now we know more”.

My favorite bit in the book :

Too few people anchor themselves in reality in our culture that seems to be centered on laying back and watching s stream of mostly nonsense on TV, in movies, and online.

David J. Eicher “The New Cosmos”, p 15.

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Book 208: Cosmos by Carl Sagan

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Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Finished reading on April 9th, 2016
Rating: 10/10

I have had this book for ages. And it took me ages to read. I just wonder how do other people manage to read big format hardback books? It’s too heavy to hold up for reading just before going to sleep, it’s too big and bulky to take with you while travelling or going to work or school…

Cosmos deals with some of the most fascinating aspects of astronomy from ancient myths to the insides of stars and galaxies etc.

I love Sagan’s style of writing, and reading the book brought into my mind the “Cosmos” TV series, and Sagan talking about pretty much the same things, not exactly but almost same.

The initial problem I had with even the idea of reading “Cosmos” was that the edition I have was published in 1981. Since that time a lot of new information has become available about the planets and stars and the Universe, and I was afraid that it would be obviously outdated. It wasn’t.  All of it is so general, that you can only feel that it was written a while back is when Sagan mentions the USSR doing something or mentioning that there hasn’t been a Mars mission with a rover yet and we haven’t sent a mission to land on a comet nor to Titan. But that was actually a fun part to read, because there are several rovers on Mars 35 years later, a spacecraft has landed on a comet and on Titan.

Something that I noticed in the beginning half or so in the book was the proportion of illustrations that were paintings or artist’s visions. It makes sense when you think about the space telescopes that only came into being later on, and now you’d most likely have the same objects as photographed by the Hubble space telescope  for example.

I would recommend reading it – it does carry a bit of a sense of the time when it was written – the dark cloud of nuclear weapons making it’s way into the book, but it is really very enjoyable. (Although slightly depressing)

 

Book 201: The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

PIMG_1057The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

Finished reading on January 31st, 2016

Rating: 8/10

This book is quite small and short and tells of the history of the non-existing planet Vulcan, why some astronomers thought it existed and how it finally disappeared because of Albert Einstein’s General Relativity.

I found the book an easy read, the beginning is rather detailed – you find out more about the astronomer Le Verrier and some of the astronomers who tried to see Vulcan transiting or tried to see it during an eclipse.

You get the idea of why there had to be a planet according to Newtonian gravity, and later you sort of get it also why according to Einstein’s there really is no need for another planet to explain Mercury’s orbit.

It’s great for some light reading.

Book 199: Measuring the Cosmos by D. H. Clark and M. D. H. Clark

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Measuring the Cosmos: How Scientists Discovered the Dimensions of the Universe by David H. Clark and Matthew D. H. Clark

Published in 2004 by Rutgers University Press

Finished reading on January 24th, 2016

Rating: 8/10

If you’re interested in how exactly scientists have come to understand the size and distances in our Universe, then this is a great book to read, as it starts from the beginning and gets to almost the present day in a speedy fashion without delving into the biographies of the various connected scientists for too long.

In the book you can find out who tried to measure stellar parallax and why some were more fortunate than others in doing so, how astronomers figured out that there are other galaxies and how big ours is and you get all the way through the competing big bang and steady theory to the inflation, dark matter and dark energy.

The authors don’t go into too much detail, but if you want to read more, you’ll find a helpful bibliography at the end of the book.

I did enjoy rushing through the book more as a reminder. At some point I did feel as if I’ve read this book before, but I’m sure that it’s just because of the same topic that you can come across in several books about the history of cosmology.

If you’ve never read anything about the history of cosmology, this book would be a great start if you don’t mind that it was published twelve years ago.

Book 197: First Magnitude by James B. Kaler

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“First Magnitude: A Book of the Bright Sky” by James B. Kaler
First published in 2012  by World Scientific Publishing Company

Finished reading on January 22, 2016
Rating: 7/10

I first spent a Sunday at work reading this book and getting through the parts about planets and getting into the brightest stars, but then it took me two weeks to get back to it and finish reading the book in a total of two sittings.

The book covers all the brightest phenomena you might chance across in the night (and sometimes day) sky starting with the obvious planets, stars etc and also giving the reader an idea about what magnitude in brightness in case of stars and planets actually means and when is a star first magnitude and when second and so forth.

In case of the objects mentioned in the book, you get a bit of information about it’s nature, position in the sky when applicable and when it’s best to observe.

It’s quite a straightforward book without detours to obscure topics and sticks to the title. By the end of the book you’ll be left wondering when you’ll get to see a bright comet, nova or supernova yourself.

I found it quite enjoyable read, I wasn’t surprised by it and didn’t get too much new information, but it’s good as a reminder of what you should know about brightest objects if you’re into observing the sky.

Book 191: The Universe In Your Hand by Christophe Galfard

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The Universe In Your Hand: A Journey Through Space, Time and Beyond by Christophe Galfard

Finished reading on November 6th, 2015

Rating: 9/10

This is the strangest popular science book I’ve read.
It’s told in second person point of view throughout as if you’re the crazy person travelling through the Universe and through molecular structure as well.

It is very interesting and written in rather simple language, and you don’t need mathematics to get though this book. However a healthy dose of imagination is crucial.
It was enjoyable and showed some concepts in physics from a different angle in very cute terms to say the least – when you’ve got something in physics cuddling up like penguins for example.
I would highly recommend reading this book even if you’ve got several degrees in physics, as it is highly entertaining, but still scientifically accurate.

The book goes into detail in elementary particle physics, general and special relativity and quantum mechanics and also cosmology, but not into the mathematics. However  I doubt your physics teacher or professor would let you get away with explanations like the ones in the book .

Book 189: The Haunted Observatory by Richard Baum

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The Haunted Observatory by Richard Baum

Finished reading some time last week before going to a new college.

Rating: 7.5/10

This book is one of several that I’ve had in my wishlist on several bookstore websites for years (probably three years), but because it seems more as if it just fun tales and anecdotes, then it isn’t really a highly needed reading, or is it?

Do you learn something new? Yes. Is it something new that you can put into a random chat with a stranger at an observatory? Unlikely – it’s rather specific in it’s scope by dealing with observations that at the time seemed like difficult to explain with physics (or in some cases – biology), but turned out to have quite decent explanations.

If you’re thinking that you’ll find aliens in this book – you won’t. However you’d see that there are observations that’ll take lots of time to find an explanation, and that sometimes you can observe something that should be there, but isn’t physically possible to see with your equipment. Or how you can observe locusts or seeds and be very confused because that’s not normally what you’d expect to see.

I did find the book very interesting, and very well researched, and I hadn’t read or heard any of these curious stories beforehand, so it was quite fun – you do meet quite a few of famous astronomers (if you know your history of astronomy, if not, well the astronomers in the book were mostly famous).

I think you have to have a specific interest in curious observations to fully appreciate this book, or at least a firm footing in astronomy because otherwise it’d take a lot of time to get the point why something or other doesn’t make sense.

Lovely book. I’m glad I read it.

Book 182: Black Hole by Marcia Bartusiak

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Black Hole by Marcia Bartusiak

Finished reading on July 4th, 2015

Rating: 10/10

Black holes are some of the most fascinating astronomical objects for the general public, and they do come up quite often in popular culture (think Interstellar…). Bartusiak’s “Black Hole” brings the history of the idea and the basic physics (or as much as scientists know about the laws of physics governing black holes) to the general reader in a fun romp through centuries of scientist thinking about the possibility of an object with such huge mass that even light would not get out.

The last time I read about black holes was in October of last year, when I also wrote a review of Caleb Scharf’s “Gravity’s Engines”. Then as now, I wasn’t altogether interested in black holes – it’s something to do with their popularity and the fact that more than 50% of questions I get at work from children are about black holes. Anyway, despite my dislike for black holes, I find myself once again enjoying a book on the topic enough to rate it with the highest 10 points. Maybe it’s just that I like how well organized and systematic the book is and how you find out more about some astronomers and physicists you might have heard of but wouldn’t connect with black holes.

Also knowing that there are great experiments such as LIGO running to get observational proof for the existence of black holes, makes the reading highly interesting, as there is a repeating theme in almost all books about a specific type of object in astronomy – someone suggests the idea quite early on (not astronomically early, but considering history of science), and everyone thinks that nature is unlikely to create such folly, and then as ideas are gathered and the laws of physics are understood better, it starts to seem less and less unlikely until the eventual discovery of it… right? ( I do hope extraterrestrial life will end up being one of those types of topics…)

One thing that I like the most, ofcourse is, when an idea is considered so outlandish, that scientists try to prove that such a thing just simply can’t exist, as was the case with black holes. And that is basically what you can read about in the book in great detail.

In short: the book is excellent, nothing like Caleb Scharf’s book although the topic is partly the same. And you don’t need to know a lot of physics or higher mathematics to fly through it in a couple of sittings.

Book 119: Fireside Astronomy by Sir Patrick Moore

pIMG_9627Fireside Astronomy by Sir Patrick Moore (the amateur astronomer, not the environmentalist Patrick Moore)

Finished reading on March 22nd, 2014

Rating: 7/10

Fireside Astronomy is a collection of short articles on various astronomy-related topics.  It’s all very well written and easily understandable, not needing much previous knowledge of physics or astronomy, it’s more on a popular level.

The articles range from stories from the history of astronomy and space science to the building of telescopes etc. Some of the stories are funny, some are just the kind of things you’d read in magazines.

As the book was published in 1992, then it gives an impression of the state of astronomy twenty years ago. Although the book is quite old, it shouldn’t be overlooked, as it still has a lot of value, since the history hasn’t really changed.

There are some funny tales there, which were the reason for me reading it. For example how a telescope in the UK was put out of use for quite a while because of a fly. Apparently it had gotten into the telescope and died and fell on the telescope’s cross-hairs. I’m not quite certain whether the cross/hairs were in the main telescope tube or in the guide telescope as they are for amateur telescopes… However the fly broke the cross-hairs and there was a lot of trouble trying to fix them. The cross-hairs help one locate the object you want to observe in case of  a  guide telescope, as what is in the middle of the cross-hairs will be in the center of the main telescope’s field of view as well (of-course only when the two telescope tubes are perfectly parallel).

Book 89: How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown

7963278Finished reading on November 25th, 2013 (my birthday! 🙂 )

Rating: 10/10

“How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming” by Mike Brown is a book about the discovery of some large icy objects in orbit around the Sun in the Kuiper belt. It tells the story of the discoveries of Sedna, Makemake, Haumea and Eris. You can find out how these objects were discovered and who were the scientists behind the discovery.

It is a rather personal account, as Mike Brown was the leading scientist working on trying to find other objects past the orbit of Pluto. Besides finding out his thoughts and feelings on those objects, there’s also quite an entertaining (for the reader, though it probably wasn’t too entertaining for the author) part about how Mike tried to use the scientific method for raising his newborn daughter. For example he tried to find out whether or not the baby sleeps longer when she’s been fed by her mother or when Mike just gives her the bottle. And the birth of Lilah (Mike’s daughter) coincides with the announcement of some of the objects so he has to deal with a lot of publicity. There’s also some drama involved with the discovery of one of the objects, but you can read more about that in the book.

Now one of the most important parts is the “killing Pluto” part. Do you have strong feelings for this dirty ice-ball? If you do, this book might not be for you, or maybe it might make one see reasons behind Pluto’s demotion… Mike Brown is “the killer of Pluto” because as there were new objects discovered near Pluto that were sometimes bigger than Pluto, then it became necessary to classify those objects. With asteroids it’s simple. But planets? Well the problem was that there was no definition for “planet”, only the concept of planet. And so when International Astronomical Union tries to get twelve planets into the Solar System, with Mike’s Eris being one of the planets, Mike starts an attack on the definition, showing why Pluto shouldn’t be a planet. And as you know, Pluto’s not a planet anymore, so if you want to know more about the back-story, of what happened and why it’s not a planet, read this book!