Universal Questions: An Introduction to the Stars and Sky

Arcand, Kimberly & Megan Watzke. Magnitude: The Scale of the Universe. Black Dog. Nov. 2017. 192p. illus. by Katie Peek. bibliog. ISBN 9780316502917. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316502900. SCI

Arcand and Watzke, both of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, along with illustrator and astrophysicist Peek wish to help readers understand the scale of measurement throughout the universe. They begin with an explanation of the logarithmic scale, which is used in most of the examples, followed by a brief lesson in SI base units and scientific notation. Within each of the book’s four parts—“Size and Quantity,” “Rates and Ratios,” “Phenomena and Processes,” and “Computation”—are specific measurements, such as distance, area, and rotation. Each of those measurements provides a colorful information graphic or illustration to display the scale of the universe. For distance, the examples range from a small gravitational wave to one that spans the Atlantic Ocean. These examples also include beautiful infographics and highly visualized charts. VERDICT An intriguing way to understand physical scale within the universe. Recommended for fans of popular science authors such as Neil deGrasse Tyson.—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI

redstarKurson, Robert. Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon. Random. Apr. 2018. 384p. notes. index. ISBN 9780812988703. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780812988727. SCI

Many are familiar with the stories of Apollo 11 and the pioneers who took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” on the moon, and of Apollo 13 and the astronauts who survived an explosion on their spacecraft while circumnavigating the moon. Yet, less widely known but equally gripping, is the account of Apollo 8 and the three bold men who were the first to orbit earth’s lunar companion. Kurson (Shadow Divers) recounts the historically significant mission, which served as a crucial test run for the eventual landing on the moon and was noted for capturing the famous “Earthrise” photograph. He frames this well-researched story with an overview of the events that shaped the year leading up to the December 1968 launch, including the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. At the heart of Kurson’s narrative are astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, and their families. However, unlike Robert Zimmerman’s Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8, Kurson does not delve extensively into the religious views of the astronauts. VERDICT Space buffs will enjoy this accessible and engaging account of human ingenuity and exploration.—Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL

Nataraj, Nirmala. The Planets: Photographs from the Archives of NASA. Chronicle. Nov. 2017. 256p. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9781452159362. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781452160467. SCI

Narrated by award-winning author Nataraj (Earth and Space) and including a foreword by scientist Bill Nye, this extraordinary journey of the solar system consists of more than 200 photographs from the archives of NASA and images of all eight planets and other major objects in the solar system, including the sun, asteroids, comets, and dwarf planets. These striking, detailed images are enhanced through a variety of photographic techniques, such as filtering, color enhancement, false color radar, and computer generated imagery. As a result, their clarity reveals such features as lava flows on Venus, the canyons of Mars, ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa, and the mountain ranges of Pluto. Among the other photographic high points are the surface of the moon taken from Apollo 11, panoramic views of Mars from the Mars Rover, and the rare transit of Venus across the face of the sun in 2013. Included is a brief history of planetary discovery and the NASA missions that were instrumental in acquiring the current information about the solar system. VERDICT Recommended for anyone interested in astronomy, space exploration, or photography.—Dave Pugl, Ela Area P.L., Lake Zurich, IL

Potter, Christopher. The Earth Gazers: On Seeing Ourselves. Pegasus. Feb. 2018. 400p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781681776361. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681777047. SCI

Potter (You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe) pens this excellent account of the people and events that brought about the first photographs of the earth taken from outer space. Revealing the earth as a stunning, beautiful sphere, these photographs would have a profound impact on the public. Potter explains how these photographs were made possible by skillfully tracing the history of air and space travel. He portrays key figures such as Charles Lindbergh, Robert Goddard, and Wernher von Braun: the ways in which they were connected to one another and the fascinating details of their personal lives. In addition, the author chronicles the intense competition between the Americans and the Soviets, as each superpower tried to outdo the other in achieving important space milestones, such as launching the first satellite or sending the first man into outer space. In general, 24 fortunate individuals had the opportunity to view the earth from outer space. The photographs that came back from their missions were inspirational and helped initiate the environmental movement as the scientific community and the general public became more earth conscience. VERDICT Readable and fascinating, recommended for anyone interested in the history of space exploration.—Dave Pugl, Ela Area P.L., Lake Zurich, IL

Phaidon Eds. Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World. Phaidon. Oct. 2017. 352p. illus. index. ISBN 9780714874616. $59.95. SCI

This collection brings together 300 representative images that display human interest in contemplating the universe, conceptualizing its vastness and meaning, and creating art and scientific works to understand it; from cave drawings to Van Gogh prints to some of NASA’s recent photographs. Throughout the book, which is compiled by Phaidon editors (Map: Exploring the World) and with an introduction by the Institute of Astronomy’s Paul Murdin, images of similar subjects are paired together. For example, one page shows a watercolor of the moon that was created by Galileo in 1609, while the opposite page portrays stereograph images of the moon from 1858. Some sets of images are complementary to one another, while others show the disparity between fact and fiction (a photograph of Mars from 1930 alongside a cover of DC Comics’ Mystery in Space from 1951). Each image has a brief description to provide context and valuable information. VERDICT A compendium of wonderful images related to the universe; ­recommended to all ­libraries.—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI

redstarVamplew, Anton. The Practical Astronomer: Explore the Wonders of the Night Sky. 2d. ed. DK. Nov. 2017. 264p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781465445131. pap. $19.95. SCI

Astronomer Vamplew helps readers become stargazers with colorful illustrations and informative content. The book assumes no previous knowledge on the subject and is perfect for beginners, and even those with experience who want an update on equipment and techniques. Starting with a basic overview of the universe, stars, and planets, Vamplew offers specifics on how to watch the stars using binoculars and buying and setting up a telescope. The majority of the book offers sky maps for the major constellations. Each map shows the constellation in detail and also instructs how to “starhop” from one constellation to another easily. Other subjects include the solar system and monthly star guides for both northern and southern hemispheres. The final section has reference tables of many items to view in the sky, a time line of major skyward events until 2023, and a glossary. VERDICT This excellent resource is highly recommended. Those wishing to learn more about becoming a stargazer will find tremendous information here.—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI



  1. Just Love says:

    As a child I liked to study the sky and the stars. I want the performance equipment to be able to fulfill my dream!

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