..1 THE SEARCH FOR LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE 2015 - Time
Whether or not we are alone in the universe has become a serious issue in astronomy. The field of astrobiology opened up despite there not being a shred of evidence that life exists beyond Earth. Curiosity roamed Mars looking for traces of water and life, and NASA is making plans to explore Jupiter's moon, Europa. It has been suggested that extraterrestrial life may be based on something other than carbon. SETI has scanned the skies since 1960 hoping to receive radio signals from an intelligent civilization. Seth Shostak recognizes the odds, that with trillions of trillions of planets in the universe, life may be out there.
..2 TOTAL ADDICTION 2012 - Kate Russo
Kate Russo is a psychologist. She is an eclipse chaser. At the time of her book, she had seen 9 total solar eclipses. It is her passion, and she says she will chase them as long as she can. As a psychologist, Kate is interested in the human aspects of totality. Why do people chase eclipses? How are they affected by them? She sees fascination, awe & a connection with primitive ancestors. Kate refers to it as a passion, although eclipse virgins may see it as an obsession.
..3 THE SUN'S HEARTBEAT 2011 - Bob Berman
Bob Berman knows his subject and presents it in a reader-friendly way. Gravity causes hydrogen clouds to collapse into stars, producing heat and pressure. Stars are round because spheres have the smallest surface areas. Nuclear fusion begins! Hydrogen atoms fuse to form helium, releasing energy. Helium atoms fuse to make carbon and oxygen. Beyond iron, additional energy is needed to make elements, and stars go supernova if they are massive enough. 92 elements fly into space. The sun is a third generation star. Its energy takes the form of radio waves, microwaves, infrared (heat), visible light & ultraviolet. Wavelengths make the difference. Stars appear to shift behind the sun as the earth orbits 67,000 miles an hour. Chapter 16 is called "Totality: The Impossible Coincidence" and deals with total solar eclipses. I experienced the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017, from Lebanon, Tennessee.
..4 THE BRIGHTEST STARS 2008 - Fred Schaaf
Schaaf devotes a chapter to each of the 21 first magnitude stars. This is remarkable when you think that not long ago stars were thought of as mere points of light. Sirius is the brightest star, and Schaaf revels in its hues. Canopus is second brightest, and I saw it while in Australia. The Alpha Centauri system contains the closest star at 4.2 light-years: 25 trillion miles. Arcturus has exhausted its hydrogen and now burns helium. Vega is a blue sapphire in the Summer Triangle. Capella is a double star. Rigel was the big toe of Orwandil in Norse mythology. Procyon is pronounced pro-SY-on. Achernar is the least famous of the 21 stars, isolated at the river's end. Betelgeuse in Orion is the most famous. Beta Centauri is called Hadar. In the movie Forbidden Planet, action takes place on the 4th planet from Altair. Acrux is Alpha Crucis in the Southern Cross. Aldebaran is the bull's-eye in Taurus, converting helium into carbon. Spica means "ear of wheat." Antares is one of the first magnitude stars that can be occulted. Pollux has a Jupiter-like planet. Fomalhaut is the mouth of the southern fish. Becrux is Beta Crucis, called Mimosa. Deneb means tail, and Deneb is the tail of the swan. Regulus is a flat star.
..5 SHOOTING FOR THE MOON 2007 - Bob Berman
Bob Berman writes about the Apollo program, made possible by the rockets of Wernher von Braun and competition between the United States and Soviet Union. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created, and Saturn V rockets were built. President Kennedy delivered his moon speech, and the Mercury astronauts were chosen. The original 7 were Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter & Deke Slayton. Neil Armstrong was in the next 9. Apollo 11 landed on the moon, July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong was first, and Buzz Aldrin was second. They landed in the Sea of Tranquility as Michael Collins orbited above. Interest faded quickly after Apollo 11, and missions 18, 19 & 20 were cancelled.
..6 THE 50 BEST SIGHTS IN ASTRONOMY 2007 - Fred Schaaf
Schaaf packs an enormous amount of information into this one. It contains everything you might want to know about astronomy. He says that a total solar eclipse is the greatest visual experience known to man. Totality never lasts more the 7 minutes, 31 seconds, and the Great American Eclipse lasted 2 minutes, 35 seconds. I stood in the moon's shadow! The best meteor shower is the August Perseids, and I counted 351 the night of August 11 and morning of August 12, 1964. The Northern Lights are caused by the sun. The Milky Way is a superb sight on summer nights, the combined glow of billions of stars. Venus at its greatest elongation is so bright, it is often mistaken for a UFO. Venus passes behind the sun to become the evening star and in front of the sun to become the morning star. Comets Hyakutake in 1996 and Hale-Bopp in 1997 were seen by millions around the world. I observed a total eclipse of the moon on February 21, 2008. The crescent moon is beautiful when accompanied by Venus. Earthshine is sunlight reflected by the earth to the moon and back to Earth. The Pleiades is a star cluster where stars are forming from gas and dust. It resembles a dipper. Omega Centauri is the greatest of the globular clusters.
..7 SIMPLE STARGAZING 2006 - Anton Vamplew
Anton writes about star catalogs, and there are many. Beginners are satisfied with the catalog of comet-hunter Charles Messier. It consists of 110 nebulas, star clusters & galaxies, many of which can be seen with the naked eye. The New General Catalog (NGC) was published by John Dreyer in 1888. He later published the Index Catalog (IC), which is an extension of the NGC. The Melotte Catalog is a compilation of star clusters. Anton compiled his own catalog, consisting of lost constellations.
..8 THE BACKYARD STARGAZER 2005 - Pat Price
I was a beginner in 1961, but it is good to go over basic concepts. More and more women are getting into astronomy, and Pat impresses with her knowledge of archaeoastronomy. Astronomy is the oldest science as people have watched the stars for thousands of years. Mesopotamian shepherds recorded observations with clay tablets and cuneiform writing. They created the Zodiac. The Greeks made a quantum leap! Aristarchus and Eratosthenes were scientists. Ptolemy set forth a model of the solar system with the earth at the center. Of course, it was wrong but stood for 14 centuries. Pat includes a picture of Stonehenge. These standing stones were once thought to be used for sacrifice but are now believed to have been used to observe the solstices.
..9 STRANGE UNIVERSE 2003 - Bob Berman
Berman compiled 32 essays. The first 17 deal with things happening on Earth. The last 15 deal with things happening in space. Chapter 4 is about gravity, and Berman recognizes that Einstein's theory of gravity, although not perfect, is better than Newton's. Chapter 7 tells us why stars, planets & moons are spheres. It is because gravity makes large objects contract into the most compact structure and spheres have the smallest surface area of any shape. Chapter 13 discusses total solar eclipses, made possible because the sun and moon, the only 2 disks in our sky, appear to be the same size. Berman anticipates the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017. He mentions Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp, the comets of 1996 and 1997. Chapters 22 and 23 focus on how the earth and moon affect each other. The moon causes the oceans and even the ground to rise and fall. The earth has affected the moon to the extent that one side faces us. Full moons rise at sunset and set at sunrise. Berman thinks the constellations are a mess and pokes fun at Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. Still, the constellations have stood the test of time. 16th and 17th century navigators named the southern constellations after their gadgets and the animals they encountered. Berman tells us that planets are named after Roman gods and comets are named after their discoverers.
10 STAR WATCH 2003 - Philip Harrington
Harrington discusses deep sky objects. He defines deep sky as that which lies beyond our solar system. Most stars are double or part of multiple systems. Our sun is an exception. Variable stars are those whose brightness changes. They are unstable. Pulsating variables expand and contract with regularity. Mira in Cetus is a long-period variable. Star clusters come in 2 varieties: open and globular. Open clusters are along the plane of the Milky Way. Their stars are young and hot. Globular clusters are spherical and surround the Milky Way's nucleus. Nebulas are clouds of hydrogen. The Orion Nebula (M42) is awesome! Emission nebulas produce their own radiation. Reflection nebulas reflect light from nearby stars. Harrington credits Edwin Hubble as the astronomer who realized that galaxies are star systems beyond the Milky Way. Galaxies can be spirals, barred spirals, elliptical or irregular. The Milky Way is barred.
11 THE BOOK OF CONSTELLATIONS 2002 - Robin Kerrod
Kerrod presents constellations known to ancient Greeks. They looked at the stars with their imaginations. They imagined gods and goddesses, heroes and animals involved in racy stories. Astronomy and mythology were the same. Of the 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy in his Almagest (The Greatest), a few actually look like what they are supposed to be. Leo resembles a crouching lion, and it is believed that it inspired the Sphinx. The Sickle is the lion's head with Regulus as its heart. In Greek mythology, Hercules strangled the Nemean Lion and made a cloak from its skin. Cygnus the swan was thought to be Zeus lusting after Leda. First magnitude Deneb is the swan's tail with Vega, Altair & Deneb forming the Summer Triangle. Kerrod says the Greeks were far enough south to see the Southern Cross. Crux is the smallest but brightest of the constellations and points to the celestial south pole. Acrux and Bcrux are first magnitude.
12 THE LITTLE BOOK OF STARS 2000 - James Kaler
Kaler's little book asks some big questions. What are stars? How do they shine? What do they mean? Well, it began with the Big Bang! Energy froze into matter when the universe cooled. Energy and matter are essentially the same thing. Kaler defines stars as self-luminous balls of gas shining because of thermonuclear fusion. Hydrogen atoms fuse, forming helium and giving off energy. Helium atoms fuse to form carbon, producing still more energy. Stars exist in clusters and in galaxies. The Milky Way consists of 400 billion stars orbiting the Galaxy every 240 million years. "Watch the stars and see the earth rotate," Kaler writes, lest we forget it is us spinning and not the stars. "Watch the stars and see the earth revolve around the sun," he continues. Each night at the same time, we face a slightly different direction and see slightly different stars. The stars meant more to the ancients than they do to people today.
13 SHARING THE UNIVERSE 1998 - Seth Shostak
Shostak is the head astronomer at the SETI Institute. SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and Seth is a brainy guy with a Ph.D. in astronomy. He spends his time searching for radio signals from advanced civilizations while acknowledging that there is no evidence of life beyond our own planet. Still, he and his colleagues scan the sky. They reject the idea that UFOs are from outer space along with other such nonsense as abductions and crop circles. If aliens exist, they have never visited Earth. I became aware of Shostak on the Coast to Coast radio show. He impressed me as a real astronomer in a sea of loonies. His voice of reason makes him a worthy successor to Carl Sagan.
14 COSMIC ADVENTURE 1998 - Bob Berman
Bob Berman is my favorite astronomer, and his books are always interesting. "Cosmic Adventure" comprises 26 essays exploring topics ranging from the moon to terraforming Mars to cosmology to relativity. Berman's store of knowledge is staggering! How can a guy know so much? He shows his contempt for the International Astronomical Union. That Berman is close to my age makes it easy to relate to his writing. His books are full of wit and humor.
15 ECLIPSE! 1997 - Philip Harrington
Harrington prepares us for the Great American Eclipse. The moon's shadow will come out of the Pacific Ocean. It will touch down in Oregon. It will cut diagonally across the country and pass over Jackson, Wyoming. I have been to Grand Teton National Park, otherwise I might consider viewing the eclipse there. The shadow will race through Nebraska to Missouri, and cut across the southern tip of Illinois to Kentucky. For me, the best place to see the eclipse is Lebanon, Tennessee, where there will be 2 minutes, 35 seconds of totality. Totality will be seen in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and in South Carolina before going into the Atlantic Ocean.
16 THE WHOLE SHEBANG 1997 - Timothy Ferris
I became aware of Timothy Ferris by reading his first book, "The Red Limit." In "The Whole Shebang," he makes a number of salient points. The universe is evolving, and the periodic table is a record of its evolution. Matter is frozen energy. Energy froze because the universe expanded and cooled. When we say the universe is expanding, we mean that space is stretching. Gravity is not a force. Planets follow the path of least resistance through curved space. The planets coalesced from a disk of gas and dust, and that explains why they circle the sun in the same direction. Most planets spin counter-clockwise. Venus and Pluto were struck by objects and had their rotation reversed. Life on Earth is part of cosmic evolution, and Timothy wonders whether life is a fluke or common throughout the universe. He distinguishes between intelligent and unintelligent life, assuming that intelligent life is capable of technology. He presents arguments from those who think intelligent life is out there and from those who do not.
17 SECRETS OF THE NIGHT SKY 1995 - Bob Berman
Berman divides his chapters into 4 sections: winter, spring, summer & autumn. Orion dominates the winter sky, and Betelgeuse is its most famous star. Betelgeuse sits near the celestial equator and can be seen from almost everywhere on the globe. The Orion Nebula (M42) is a stellar nursery, where new stars are forming from gas and dust. Giant blue stars like Rigel die young. Supernovas create elements heavier than iron. Orange Arcturus dominates the spring. When we look at the Virgo cluster of galaxies, we look away from the plane of the Milky Way. The Local Group is part of the Virgo cluster. The hub of the Milky Way in Sagittarius is best seen in summer. The Via Galactia confounded many civilizations until Galileo realized it was the combined glow of billions of distant stars. There are more Perseid meteors after midnight because the spinning earth points in the direction from which they come. Berman calls the total solar eclipse nature's greatest spectacle, made possible because the sun is 400 times larger than the moon and 400 times farther away. The Andromeda Galaxy gets our attention in autumn. This spiral is 2.5 million light years away and home to a trillion stars. The Pleiades is a stellar nursery, where young stars are being born.
18 STARS 1951 - Herbert Zim and Robert H. Baker
My mother bought me this book when I was learning the constellations. It is a good starting point. The Perseid meteor shower interested me, and Zim and Baker devote 4 pages to space debris including a picture of Arizona's Meteor Crater. I learned the moon's features in 1981. Zim and Baker's moon chart is confusing, but their pages about solar eclipses remain relevant. This book is most useful in teaching beginners famous constellations such as Orion and Scorpius. There are illustrations depicting the southern constellations, which I saw in Australia in 2002, and again in Bolivia in 2012. It was the romance of the stars that captivated me, looking up on summer nights with my favorite song playing in my head.
19 INTRODUCING THE CONSTELLATIONS 1937 - Robert H. Baker
Cosmology had a long way to go when this book was written. The best science writers are also poets, and Baker is one of them. He writes about Aratus, the Greek poet who wrote about how the constellations came to be, and assures us that our understanding of the sky is different from that of the Greeks, who pictured it as a celestial sphere with twinkling lights. The constellations we see today, however, are the same ones Aratus saw. His tales have survived to the present as well, like that of Perseus, Andromeda & the winged horse Pegasus. Returning from having slain Medusa, Perseus encounters the lovely Andromeda chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster. Perseus shows up in the nick of time to rescue the maiden by flashing Medusa's head and turning the monster to stone. The couple fly away on Pegasus and live happily ever after. The variable star Algol was known as the Demon Star and said to represent the snaky-haired gorgon. The constellation Andromeda is home to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), a spiral larger than the Milky Way. Pegasus is noted for its Great Square, 4 stars forming the horse's body.
20 WHEN THE STARS COME OUT 1934 - Robert Horace Baker
Robert H. Baker asks a lot of questions. How did the stars and the earth come into being? How did living things arrive on Earth? Why are we here? Baker contrasts scientific knowledge with the misconceptions of the ancient world. We know the earth is a globe and rotates from west to east. We know the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around. Earth is a planet! Yet even in this era of modern science, people cling to superstition and supernatural explanations. Baker discredits the gods and goddesses of the Greeks but stops short of rejecting the God of the Bible. He knows his classics and invokes Homer. He explains that although the stars circle the Galaxy at fantastic speeds, we see the same constellations Homer saw. The Greeks were fascinated by the Zodiac, that circle of 12 constellations in which the sun, moon & planets reside due to the flatness of the solar system.
21 STAR LORE 1911 - William Tyler Olcott
Olcott's book is a study of the mythology associated with constellations seen from northern latitudes. It is not an easy read. A knowledge of the ancient world is necessary: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece & Rome. Olcott stresses the origin and history of the constellations. Orion, Scorpius & the Big Dipper impress stargazers. In Greek legend, Orion was the hunter who pursued the Perseids (7 Sisters). Orion contains first magnitude stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel. His belt is composed of 3 conspicuously aligned stars: Alnitak, Alnilam & Mintaka, named by the Arabs. The story goes that Juno sent a scorpion to sting Orion and kill him, which is why Orion and Scorpius are not visible in the sky at the same time. If we travel to Australia, however, we see them together. The Greeks were restricted by latitude. The Big Dipper is an asterism, a well-known group of stars which is not a constellation.