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A Question and Answer Guide to Astronomy
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Are we alone in the Universe? Was there anything before the Big Bang? Are there other universes? What makes stars shine? Where does Earth's water come from? Why is the night sky dark? Was there ever life on Mars? How do telescopes work? This engaging guide book answers all these questions and hundreds more, making it a practical reference for anyone who has ever wondered what is out in the cosmos, where it all comes from, and how it all works. Richly illustrated in color throughout, it gives simple yet rigorous explanations in non-technical language, summarizing current astronomical knowledge, without overlooking the important underlying scientific principles. This second edition includes substantial new material throughout, including the latest findings from the New Horizons, Rosetta, and Dawn space missions, and images from professional telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array.


Review of previous edition:‘The authors tackle an amazing range of questions, each explanation generally no more than a page and most illustrated with at least one four-color image, chart, or graph to enhance understanding. Regardless of how advanced you consider yourself in astronomy or science in general, I don't doubt you will find this effort intriguing and highly thought provoking - and that you'll probably need to reread one or more entries at least twice to digest the full scope of the information presented. Because each answer also offers a reference to a related entry when necessary, it's easy to skip and skim among questions, hitting those you find most interesting or intriguing before working through the rest of the book. I think this work should reside on every astronomy enthusiast's bookshelf; it will certainly sit on mine.'

Chris Raymond Source: Astronomy

Review of previous edition:‘Normally, I would pass quickly by a book that purports to answer 250 questions about astronomy in 263 pages. Instead of glib superficial answers at an elementary level, however, these authors bring their expertise (astrophysics, engineering, and public outreach) to bear on giving clear, concise answers that reflect the best understanding of subjects as diverse as the history of astronomy, cosmology, and the potential for life in environments beyond the Earth. … It is likely that even professional astronomers will discover some interesting new facts. … This book would be extremely useful for teachers who are looking for quick, clear, and authoritative answers for pre-college students, for professors teaching introductory college astronomy and who need analogies and other ways to explain complex topics such as dark energy and even string theory, and for parents who may be challenged by their children's curiosity about the night sky and all things astronomical.'

Sidney Wolff - Astronomy Education Review

Review of previous edition:‘This delightful little volume is written as though the authors loved their subject too much to write it as a textbook. While it's aimed at students and those wishing for a well-rounded coverage, it's full of lovely quirky extras … topics include a great deal on the planets, the Earth, the Universe, practical astronomy, history, and awkward questions such as astronomy in the Bible, UFOs, and aliens. … There are plenty of footnotes, tables, diagrams, and beautiful photographs. The authors have prepared for different levels of knowledge in their audience, though they seem to assume familiarity and ease with equations. But it's a very human book. It has some inside stories, such as exactly what Fred Hoyle said when he coined the term ‘big bang' … I would recommend this book whether you know a lot or a little: it is full of memorable snippets, clear and satisfying reasoning, and enough facts to keep you entertained for a very long time.'

Alice Sheppard Source: Astronomy Now

Review of previous edition:‘The fact that the authors are, respectively, an engineer specialising in telescope design, an astrophysicist, and a senior scientist at the Gemini Observatory, ensures that the underlying principles of astronomy are solidly covered, while the contents of the cosmos and our methods of exploring it are not neglected. Can enthusiasts, perhaps new to astronomy, resist a guide that tells them how to go about finding their own meteorite collection; explains string theory for the uninformed; discusses light pollution and its depredations; and tells them what to do if they discover something ‘new' in the sky above? An excellent bibliography and website list complete a very interesting book that ought to have a place on the shelves of astronomers, whatever their level of acquaintance with the noble science.'

Bob Mizon Source: Journal of the British Astronomical Association

Review of previous edition:‘… a kind of ‘cheat's guide', a ‘bluff your way into being an expert' book on every aspect of astronomy and astrophysics, in the form of questions and answers which, although chosen by the authors, are very typical … I found the book thoroughly worthwhile - I learned a lot, was reminded of much and never felt patronised, although it covered some very basic material. Everything is backed up with references for those wanting to take things further, and the authors do a good job of making clear the limits of knowledge - no-one will leave the book with the impression that cosmology is a closed subject, but they will be certain about many of the wonders of the Earth and everything around it.'

Ken Zetie Source: Contemporary Physics

'This book includes thorough, well-written answers to 244 questions that cover just about all aspects of astronomy. The answers are not over-simplified and will be most appreciated by readers who want a certain level of sophistication and detail. Additionally, there is material that many professional astronomers may not be familiar with, such as astrophysicist McKellar’s 1940 discovery that interstellar cyanogen was at a temperature of about 2.4 K; a precursor to the well-known 1948 prediction by Alpher and Gamow that there should be greatly redshifted relic radiation with a black body temperature of about 5 K remaining from the hot, dense early universe; and the 1964 discovery by Penzias and Wilson of the cosmic microwave background radiation... A helpful list of references is included. This work is recommended for undergraduates and those individuals with personal collections in astronomy.'

R. R. Erickson Source: Choice

'… all the [astronomy] questions the readers might have but do not know who to ask other than Google are here. For example, almost everyone knows what the North Star is but is there the southern equivalent? … Or do the readers ever wonder how big the biggest star is? … Or how about going faster than light, can we do that? … There are many more interesting facts that can be learned from this book. Some of the explanations are a bit technical but nothing that amateur astronomers cannot handle … For readers who have just signed up for beginner astronomy class, it is well-suited as an introductory text, while instructors can use it as a look-up for those annoying questions students always ask.'

B. Ishak Source: Contemporary Physics

'This is a reference book for astronomy and provides an amazingly wide range of information from ‘How are stars named?’ to the ‘Solar System’, ‘Stars’, ‘Universe’, and ‘Life’, to ‘Which telescope should you choose?’. … In general, I am not a fan of being given information in a Q and A format - how do you know exactly what to ask and how do you find it in the book? - so it is essential that the index works well. This book passes that test and does work as a reference text with a sizeable bibliography attached. Also, there is good cross-referencing within each answer to other connected answers. Each answer also has at least one illustration - photographs, diagrams, graphs, and artists’ impressions are all used - and these add positively to interest and understanding.'

Debra Holton Source: The Observatory

'This book does what it says on the tin. It consists of 244 questions and answers in eight sections … followed by a useful table of unit conversion and basic physical and astronomical measurements, references, an excellent bibliography and a good index. … There are some witty and entertaining comments … The authors really do seem to have thought of every question an intelligent enquirer might ask, and the book is far more comprehensive than I can possibly do justice to here. As well as concrete matters, there is also discussion of wider topics such as the anthropic principle. The point is made that astronomy is the only science to which amateurs can make significant contributions, and excellent and comprehensive advice is given on how to get involved.'

Ray Ward Source: Reference Reviews

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Bernstein, M., 2006, Prebiotic materials form on and off the early Earth, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 361, 1689.
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Chudler, E. H., 2016, Moonstruck! Does the full Moon influence behavior?
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Grealy, A., Macken, A., Allentoft, M., et al., 2016. An assessment of ancient DNA preservation in Holocene–Pleistocene fossil bone excavated from the world heritage Naracoorte Caves, South Australia, Journal of Quaternary Science, 31, 3345.
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Hubble, E., 1947, The 200 inch telescope and some problems it may solve, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 59, 349.
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Indiana University, 2008, “Lost” Miller–Urey experiment created more of life’s building blocks, Science Daily, October 17.
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There are numerous books on astronomy. Below are our suggestions of several books from the elementary to more specialized and some advanced-level ones. This list is far from complete, but it will help you to pick among a large choice. Do not hesitate to explore the Internet and read reviews about the books that may be of interest. Some books are several years old and yet are still very informative. Most of them are obtainable (sometimes in a used version) if you search the Internet carefully.

Christensen, L. L., de Martin, D., and Shida, R. Y., Cosmic Collisions: The Hubble Atlas of Merging Galaxies, New York: Springer, 2009.
Croswell, K., Magnificent Universe, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.
Greene, B., Fabric of the Cosmos, New York: Vintage, 2005.
Harwit, M., In Search of the True Universe – The Tools, Shaping and Cost of Cosmological Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Hawking, S. W., A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
Hawking, S. W., The Universe in a Nutshell, New York: Bantam Books, 2001.
Kirshner, R., The Extravagant Universe, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
Overbye, D., Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Randall, L., Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe, New York: HarperCollins, 2015.
Sagan, C., Cosmos, New York: Ballantine Books, 1985.

Wikipedia hosts a very large number of excellent articles on all topics of astronomy and with a number of images and illustrations.

Freese, K., The Cosmic Cocktail, Three Parts Dark Matter, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.
Gamow, G., The Creation of the Universe, New York: Viking Press, 1952.
Guth, A., The Inflationary Universe, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997.
Livio, M., The Accelerating Universe: Infinite Expansion, the Cosmological Constant, and the Beauty of the Cosmos, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 1999.
Rees, M., Our Cosmic Habitat, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Silk, J., A Short History of the Universe, Scientific American Library, No. 53, 1997.
Steinhardt, P. J. and Turok, N., Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang – Rewriting Cosmic History, New York: Broadway Books, 2007.
Susskind, L., The Cosmic Landscape, New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
Weinberg, S., The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, New York: Basic Books, 1977.
Andersen, G., The Telescope: Its History, Technology and Future, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.
Bally, J. and Reipurth, B., The Birth of Stars and Planets, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Hill, S. and Carlowicz, M., The Sun, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2006.
Hoyle, F., The Black Cloud, London: Roc Penguin Books, 1982.
Hubble, E., The Realm of the Nebulae, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1936.
Impey, C., The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe, Updated Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Light, M., Full Moon, New York: Knopf, 2002.
Luhr, J., The Earth, London: Dorling Kindersley, 2007.
McCully, J. G., Beyond the Moon: A Conversational, Common Sense Guide to Understanding the Tides, Singapore: World Scientific, 2006.
McNab, D. and Younger, J., The Planets, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.
Schlegel, E. M., The Restless Universe: X-ray Astronomy in the Age of Chandra and Newton, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Stacey, F. D. and Davis, P. M., Physics of the Earth, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Waller, W. H. and Hodge, P. W., Galaxies and the Cosmic Frontier, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.
Ward, P. and Brownlee, D., Rare Earth – Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, New York: Copernicus Books, 2004.
Aveni, A., People and the Sky: Our Ancestors and the Cosmos, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008.
Bartusiak, M., The Day We Found the Universe, New York: Vintage Books, 2010.
Copernicus, N., On the Revolutions: Nicolas Copernicus Complete Works, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Ferris, T., Coming of Age in the Milky Way, New York: Harper Perennial, 2003.
Galileo, G., Sidereus Nuncius, or the Sidereal Messenger, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Hirshfeld, A. W., Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos, New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2001.
Hirshfeld, A. W., Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe, New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2014.
Hoskin, M., The Cambridge Illustrated History of Astronomy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Hoskin, M., The History of Astronomy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Hoyle, F., Home is Where the Wind Blows: Chapters from a Cosmologist’s Life, Mill Valley, CA: University Science Books, 1994.
Nassim, O. W., Observing by Hand: Sketching Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2013.
North, J., Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Ptolemy, , Ptolemy’s Almagest (translated by Toomer, G. J.), London: Duckworth, 1984.
Rudwick, M. J. S., Earth’s Deep History: How It Was Discovered and Why It Matters, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2014.
Smith, R. W., The Expanding Universe: Astronomy’s “Great Debate” 1900–1931, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Sobel, D, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientfic Problem of his Time, New York: Walker Publishing Company, 1995.
Tyson, N. D. The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.
Verschuur, G. L., The Invisible Universe: The Story of Radioastronomy, New York: Springer, 2006.
Consolmagno, G. and Davis, D., Turn Left at Orion: Hundreds of Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope and How to Find Them, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Dickinson, T., NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe, Richmond Hill, Ontario: Firefly Books, 2006.
Kriege, D. and Berry, R., The Dobsonian Telescope, Richmond, VA: William Bell, 1998.
Legault, T., Astrophotography, Santa Barbara, CA: Rocky Nook, 2014.
Levy, D. H., Skywatching, San Francisco, CA: Fog City Press, 2007.
O’Meara, S. J., Deep-Sky Companions: The Messier Objects, Second Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Raymo, C., 365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year, New York: Fireside, 1999.
Ridpath, l. (ed.), Norton’s Star Atlas and Reference Handbook, New York: Dutton, 2004.
Sinnott, R. W., Sky & Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas, Cambridge, MA: Sky Publishing Corporation, 2006.
Texereau, J., How to Make a Telescope, Richmond, VA: Willmann-Bell, reprinted 1984.
Thompson, M., Astrophotography: The Essential Guide to Photographing the Night Sky, Richmond Hill: Firefly Books, 2015.
Bhatnagar, A. and Livingston, W., Fundamentals of Solar Astronomy, Singapore: World Scientific, 2005.
Carroll, B. W. and Ostlie, D. A., An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1996.
Einstein, A., The Meaning of Relativity, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1945.
Kragh, H. S., Conceptions of Cosmos: From Myths to the Accelerating Universe – A History of Cosmology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
McFadden, L.-A., Weissman, P. R., and Johnson, T. V. (eds.), Encyclopedia of the Solar System, San Diego: Academic Books, 2006.
Peterson, C. C., Astronomy 101: From the Sun and Moon to Wormholes and Warp Drive, Key Theories, Discoveries, and Facts about the Universe, Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2013
Stacey, F. D. and Davis, P. M., Physics of the Earth, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • the website of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array.

  • the website of Amateur Astronomy Magazine, written by amateur astronomers for amateur astronomers.

  • the website of Astronomy Picture of the Day. There is an archive of images and there are “mirror sites” in a large number of languages (see About APOD).

  • the NASA website on astrobiology.

  • the website of the Astronomy magazine with news, updates on the Sun, the Moon, and the planets in the sky. Several articles giving good introductions to different topics of astronomy, including “How to get started in the hobby of astronomy.”

  • the website of the Australian Astronomical Society with sections on amateur astronomy and education.

  • the Canadian Astronomical Society website has a section on Canada’s astronomy education.

  • the Canada–France–Hawai’i Telescope website.

  • the website of the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

  • gives information on several small observatories open to the public and travelers in Chile.

  • continuous updates on earthquake activity on our planet and many other resources.

  • European Space Agency website.

  • the European Southern Observatory website.

  • the Gemini Observatory website.

  • website of the Hong Kong Astronomical Society with lots of information (mostly in Chinese) for amateurs.

  • website from the Space Telescope Science Institute including a gallery, newsitems, educational items, and other information about the Hubble Space Telescope.

  • Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the NASA center that manages many of the NASA interplanetary space missions.

  • NASA website (see also the search engine

  • Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter website.

  • the website of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

  • a NASA website on “what’s new in lunar and planetary science.”

  • a fine example of an amateur observatory and of astrophotography being conducted and tips on equipment and observing procedures.

  • for a list of Citizen Science projects in astronomy.

  • the website of the Royal Astronomical Society, giving extensive information of astronomical activites in the UK. Good sections of information for everyone: schools, students, and professionals.

  • the website of the Sky & Telescope astronomy magazine with weekly news about astronomy. It offers an eBook Library, including an Astrophotography Primer.

  • the Spitzer Space Telescope website.

  • information site for the James Webb Space Telescope.

  • online encyclopedia with numerous articles on astronomy topics.

  • is an open source set of applications and data services that gives access and displays astronomical and earth science data.

  • a very popular website with access to numerous computer simulations with excellent visualizations.

  • Citizen Science projects in a variety of science areas.

  • See also the websites dedicated to amateur astronomy listed in Q. 208.


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