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General Interest Astronomy Books and Magazines

Visions of the Cosmos, Carolyn Collins Petersen and John C. Brandt, Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0521818982.

This is the sixth book I've worked on and the second title with Jack Brandt. In our first book (Hubble Vision, now out of print), we talked about the wonderful science being done with the Hubble Space Telescope. That was so much fun that we decided to expand the vision (so to speak) and give readers a peek at the science being done at as many ground-based and with as many space-based observatories as we could fit into a book. The book has 187 photographs and illustrations (most of which are in color). In a way, the images lead the discussion -- which begins with an examination of the kinds of astronomy being done, where it's being done, and how all the discoveries are enriching the discipline of astronomy. If you know somebody who is really into astronomy (or if you are into astronomy), then this makes a great gift!

For what it's worth, here's the official writeup Cambridge University Press sent out about the book:

"This spectacularly illustrated book is a comprehensive exploration of astronomy through the eyes of the world’s observatories and spacecraft missions. Featuring the latest and most stunning images, it provides a magnificent portrayal of the beauty of the cosmos. The accompanying text is an accessible guide to the science behind the wonders, with clear explanations of all the major themes in astronomy. An essential guide to understanding and appreciating the Universe, Visions of the Cosmos builds on the success of the authors’ previous book, Hubble Vision, which became an international best-seller and won world-wide acclaim. 226 pages, 187 colour plates."

The New Solar System, edited by J. Kelly Beatty, Carolyn Collins Petersen, and Andrew Chaikin. Fourth. ISBN: 0-933346-86-7. 1998, Sky Publishing, Inc. and Cambridge University Press.

This is one of the definitive surveys of solar system science — and a book that I keep handy. Interestingly enough, back when I was in grad school, I used an earlier edition of this book in one of my classes — never dreaming that someday I'd be a co-editor on a new edition! Each chapter is written by an expert in planetary science, often giving first-hand accounts of exploration as they explain the conditions in the solar system. Completely updated with the latest planetary science information and given in the context of the science behind the discoveries!

Rendezvous in Space: The Science of Comets, by John C. Brandt and Robert D. Chapman. ISBN 0-7167-2175-9. 1992, W.H. Freeman and Company, New York.

This is a sort of "comet textbook" for amateurs and professionals who want to know about the science behind those "hairy stars" that make their appearance in the night sky. Brandt and Chapman are scientists who have specialized in the science behind comets. When I was in grad school I was Brandt's assistant. I started out wanting to study Mars (and I did for a time) but got sucked in by comets and their wily, often contradictory, but fascinating ways! This is a good introductory book that will give you a solid grounding in comet physics.

Jack and Robert have a new book on comets called Introduction to Comets. I just received my copy and it looks like a complete and up-to-date look at comets, suitable for graduate and advanced undergraduate students of astronomy and planetary science. Advanced amateurs who palpitate over comets will find it a useful addition to their libraries.

Burnham's Celestial Handbook, by Robert Burnham, Jr. ISBN 0-486-24063-0. 1978, Dover Books.

This three-volume set of guides to the night sky, categorized by constellation, is incredibly detailed. Not only does the author talk about the stars, galaxies and nebulae in each constellation, he also shares a great deal of mythology that spans the cultures of the globe. They're indispensable when I'm working on planetarium shows. Just as an example of the cool things in this book, in the section on the Pleiades (in Volume 3), the author dug up the most amazing array of names for this little asterism of stars (it's really a star cluster): the Hen and Her Chicks, The Seven Sisters, the Matari'i, the Seven Camels, and many others. The three-volume set was written in the 70s and needs science updating, but you'll find no finer collection of star lore around! Most stores sell each volume separately, and offer deals if you buy the set.

Volume One contains an introduction to coordinate systems, astronomy, and object descriptions for the constellations Andromeda through Cetus. Volume Two contains information on objects in the constellations Chamaeleon through Orion. Volume Three contains information on objects in the constellations Pavo through Vulpecula. Each constellation entry gives a listing of the brightest stars, clusters, nebulae, galaxies, and other objects to be found within the constellation borders.

Private Lives of the Stars, by Roy Gallant. ISBN 0-02-737350-9. 1986, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York.

Roy Gallant is a planetarium director in Maine, and wrote this book to answer the many questions that children have about the stars: where do stars come from? why are some blue and others red? what happens when a star "dies"? Roy's book is a journey through the lives of stars and a good read for anybody interested in a good read. I gave this one to my niece for Christmas.

The Little Book of Stars by James B. Kaler, 2001, Copernicus Books. ISBN 0387950052.

Okay, I admit it. I'm a sucker for creative astronomy books. A few years ago I was at an astronomy meeting and ran into Jim Kaler, astronomer extraordinaire and all around good friend. He was showing off his latest work — and Jim's a prolific writer, by the way — and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to have a copy! So I ran over to the publisher's table and bought a copy and then pestered Jim to sign one for me. And I devoured the whole thing on the plane ride home! For a little book (it's only 184 pages and about 4 x 5 inches big) it packs in a ton of information about the universe and the stars that populate it. Go get this book and learn! And make my friend Jim happy...

Extreme Stars, also by Jim Kaler, Cambridge University Press, April 2001, ISBN 052140262X.

Okay, so I said the guy was prolific. I got this book to review for Sky & Telescope magazine, and it was fortuitous because I was working on rewrites for Visions of the Cosmos. Jim's way of covering substellar dwarfs was something I enjoyed reading. Before I left Sky Publishing, I edited an article Jim wrote about these "stars in the cellar" and the mental image he drew for me of "dim little bulbs" out there in the universe has stuck with me. Want to take a detailed look at stars and how they work without having to do all the math? This may be the book for you!

Sky & Telescope Magazine, From Sky Publishing Corporation.

Sky & Telescope is of the world's leading astronomy magazines. Each month's issues features articles on stargazing, astronomy research, astrophotography, astro- and space science-related books, calendars, and products. Liberally illustrated with astonishingly beautiful images from both amateur and professional astronomers, this is THE magazine to get for yourself or the astronomy enthusiast you know. And I say this, not just as a former editor at Sky Publishing, but as a long-time reader of this excellent magazine!

For beginners of all ages who want to get started in astronomy, Sky Publishing also produces a beautiful magazine called Night Sky six times a year. It contains wonderful tips on stargazing, products, and the science of astronomy, all in an approachable, friendly writing style. This is one of my favorite picks, and not just because editor Kelly Beatty is an old friend of mine! Check it out as a gift for yourself or a holiday gift for that astronomy beginner you know!

Science Fiction and Fact Magazines

Analog is the most distinguished magazine of science fiction in the world. Each month its pages contain fascinating stories and articles by today's best writers. I've been reading this magazine since the mid-1970s and have kept every copy. It's THAT good! Interested in a subscription? Click on the link to the right for more information!

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine is another favorite of mine. I started getting it from the first issue in the late 1970s and fell in love with it AND its namesake, Dr. Isaac Asimov. In fact, some years later I had the great honor of meeting Dr. Asimov at a dinner in New York City, and we hammed up a little public love scene for the attendees. He was a great writer, someone I grew up reading, and I still miss his feisty ways in the magazine. Each month's issue has a great collection of science fiction and sometimes a little fantasy. Great reading, especially on a lazy afternoon