Posted on Tuesday, May 23, 2017
By Kadri
"Breakthrough!" by Robert Gendler and R. Jay GaBany

Breakthrough! begins with a short history of astrophotography and the methods that have been used from the middle of nineteenth century all the way to present day, describing on the way the difficulties that were associated with photographing specific objects with specific techniques.

The book presents astronomical images that have changed our understanding or perception of the objects in some meaningful way together with an explanation of what and how it changed.

The range of images in this book is wide, starting with first surviving astrophotographs of the Sun, Moon and nebulae, and continuing all the way to images taken in a variety of wavelengths and from space telescopes to fly-by missions and orbiting spacecrafts.

I liked that although the focus is on the images , it is very informative. Although a picture is said to be worth more than a thousand words, in some popular astronomy books they do however tend to rather fill space and provide less information to a new astronomy enthusiast than they could with a good explanation that would go beyond the "Messier object ....". I feel that sometimes long explanations are important since they make the reader pay more attention to the images that they might have seen tens of times, and never really looked at closely enough to take in all the details.

It's a wonderful book.

As for the images, I did choose my favorites for what they represent - the human boot print on the Moon, and finding water-ice beneath Martian surface.

I did come across my pet peeve in this book though - slight errors that could have been avoided with double-checking.


Posted on Tuesday, May 23, 2017
By Kadri
Survival and Sacrifice in Mars Exploration by Erik Seedhouse

One of my favoutire topics to read about as a teenager was polar expeditions. I'm not quite certain what drew me in to read about Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen or Fridjof Nansen, but I always found those journeys incredibly interesting and then also sad because there didn't seem to be any other place left, that would produce expeditions to the edge of the unknown.

In "Survival and Sacrifice in Mars Exploration", Erik Seedhouse looks at how polar expeditions might give us a glimpse on what to expect from manned missions to Mars - the cold, the long journey, cramped conditions, unknown dangers, no help from home.

Reading this book was great as a reminder of what I already knew about polar expeditions and the possible difficulties for a Mars mission, but it also brought out many more things that should and probably would have to be carefully considered.

Some of the more gruesome ideas ofcourse were dealing with extreme trouble - might a food shortage lead a Mars mission to succumb to cannibalism? What would be done in case of a person dying en-route to Mars? Would the crew have to dispose of the body or live on a spacecraft with a corpse on-board?

It also deals with some (relatively) more likely problems - what would be done for entertainment? How to make sure that the crew remains on friendly terms after long months of space-travel in cramped quarters? Seedhouse tries to answer some of those inconveniences and problems with solutions from polar expeditions, and it does bring out the possible similarities between polar and space exploration.


Posted on Monday, May 15, 2017
By Kadri

A History of the Solar System by Claudio Vita-Finzi

How did the Solar system form? What were its building blocks? How has it evolved? Those are a few of the questions that you can find an answer to in this book.

It's a short and delightful treatment of an interesting topic of the history of the solar system covering it's birth from a cloud of dust and gases, it's youth and how it might still evolve. The book is very detailed and written for a popular audience.

It takes a look at a variety of interactions in the solar system that have shaped it and continue to do it such as the interactions between planets and their moons.

The book's short length makes it ideal as an introduction.


Posted on Friday, May 12, 2017
By Kadri

Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology by Peter Schneider

Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology is a textbook about what and how we know or hypothesise about the Universe and our Galaxy.

The book starts out with a short overview of all the strange and wonderful astronomical objects and cosmological ideas that we face in modern science.

I enjoyed most the depth and abundance of details provided in the book.

As is quite usual in physics where at one moment you're dealing with passages of a rather descriptive nature and before you know it, you'll be in the middle of equations searching for your Greek alphabet. The structure of the book follows a rather steep learning curve. That however is necessary to get to the core of it and get to the modern observations, experiments etc that have provided the data about our Universe.

If in a more basic astronomy course you might be shown an image of CMB as seen by Planck and a short explanation of what it the features on it signify, then Schneider's book goes into great detail talking about deviations from what was expected etc.

The book doesn't start with the basics of astronomy or cosmology, and a certain level of comfort with higher maths is expected, but some necessary topics that you really need to understand before tackling the more advanced topics in cosmology are provided in the appendices.

It is however in essence still an introduction to extragalactic astronomy and cosmology, so you can read about different cosmological models, objects such as active galactic nuclei, galaxy cluster and groups, the cosmic microwave background, how much we know about the cosmological parameters and the Universe at an earlier time and evolution of galaxies.

Quite densely packed with theory but ultimately rewarding.


Posted on Friday, May 12, 2017
By Kadri

Fundamental Astronomy, edited by Hannu Karttunen, Pekka Kröger, Heikki Oja, Markku Poutanen, Karl Johan Donner

Some years ago I took an astronomy course at university where the recommended textbook was the fifth edition of this textbook. Although at the time because of the short length of the course I didn't get too well acquainted with the book except in case of the exercises provided, it contained a lot of interesting topics that we didn't get to in the lectures.

Now reading the Sixth edition more thoroughly, I appreciated it's ordering of the subject matter, and the overall choice of topics and the depth and breadth that this book goes to, that couldn't really all be covered in lectures, but are essential for a great understanding of astronomy. I feel like it is as good a book as far as the basics of theory and observational astrophysics are concerned.

Everything is explained clearly and where possible there are helpful diagrams, figures and photos that are there exactly when you need them.

The book covers such topics as astronomical time systems, telescopes, different types of radiation and their mechanisms, celestial mechanics, photometry and spectroscopy, objects of the solar system, stars, cosmology etc. all with solved problems as examples and exercises. The exercises are delightful in the way how they're exactly the kinds of things you'd like to find out, but maybe hadn't thought of calculating just yet. They're not just boring number-crunching, but rather something that you might want to solve even when you come across them after midnight.

Something that I also enjoyed a lot, was the extensive set of tables. Yes, you can find all of that information online, but it's so much nicer to look it up in a book and be led to something else that catches your eye.


Posted on Wednesday, March 29, 2017
By Kadri

The Unforgotten Sisters by Gabriella Bernardi

How come there are rarely any female scientists mentioned when it comes to the history of science and astronomy in particular? "The Unforgotten Sisters" offers some insight to the rare and wonderful ladies of the past who by some luck or thanks to a family-member ahead of their time got the education necessary to contribute something to astronomy or science in general.

The book gives short biographical accounts of over twenty women from ancient times to the beginning of 19th century. They're not all obscure / Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville pop to mind immediately, but there are a few more whose names at least are mentioned in books more often - for example Émilie du Châtelet, the French natural philosopher mentioned sometimes in connection to her relationship to Voltaire.

The biographical accounts bring out some similarities in the lives of these women - the most noticable similarity is where they got their education from. For most part they needed to have a male familymember who would be accepting and supporting in the woman's quest for knowledge and possibly the first to teach the girl. There are some exceptions to the rule, where the mother played an important role.

It is also interesting to read some of the opinions of the lady astronomers about what they thought about such occupation for a female - who thinks it's wholly suitable and nothing should come in the way of a woman in science as they are in possession of equal faculties to any man, and there's also the idea that mayble women are lacking in a creative genius and can only hope to popularize the science, do calculations and observations, but not create new theories. To combat that we only just need to think of all the astronomers and scientists who aren't mentioned in history books, because of their only minor contributions when it comes to new ideas.

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Posted on Monday, January 16, 2017
By Kadri

The Great Canoes in the Sky by Stephen Robert Chadwick and Martin Paviour-Smith

In The Great Canoes in the Sky, the star lore and constellations of the Pacific are introduced in a very organized fashion.

To begin with, there are of-course the necessary Solar system objects and myths related to them, and the Milky Way.  After that, though the book goes by themes, that are apparent in that area's star lore.

Because of the nature of the islands, and the history of sailing from one island to another, the ocean is an important theme. It is interesting to both read about the canoes as constellations, who and why is said to maybe be travelling by them, etc.

Another side of it, is the navigational wisdom of the peoples of the South Pacific. The methods that are talked about, are fascinating, and as described do appear to take a long time to learn, and require fastidious observations and a good memory. One of the methods that was used historically for navigation there, was by using so-called star paths. A star would rise and set at the same distance from north or south, and there would be other stars that are on the same path - this way you can find directions and even manage to have a star compass, where Polaris, (that is not visible in the South Pacific) marks north, the Southern cross stars point towards the South, and then there are pairs of stars rising- and setting directions for other compass points.

Another fascinating theme in the star lore, is birds as constellations. It's curious to find out that almost across the South Pacific islands, there is a generic bird constellation, whilst different island nations would also have some more specific birds. It's also interesting, as some more information is provided on the birds, so it won't just be a strangely named creature to someone who is not yet familiar with the fauna of that region.

One whole chapter is dedicated to the Pleiades open cluster. It is curious to find how this cluster of blue stars has for so many people been a group of young women, and also how the nearby Orion although seen as a different character that consists of partly other stars, is in pursuit of the women also for the people of the South Pacific islands.

The creation myths and cosmogony of the South Pacific is introduced as well. Interestingly enough, it is at the end of the book rather than at the beginning, how I feel like most books about star-lore would start. The variety of myths from pushing apart a mother and a father to give light to the world, and climbing to a number of heavens and what might be seen there, can be found there.

Fascinating discussion about the observational methods and astrophotography follows in the next chapter. Focusing on the issue of whether or not a photograph of an object really represents the object better even after a lot of image processing compared to a painting.

It's a fascinating book where the different layers of what one can think, and know about the night sky are presented at about the same level, not making one side of it more prevalent than the other.

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