The Veil Nebula, in the constellation Cygnus, is one of the most massive and brilliant features in the x-ray sky.
Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team
The universe through the eyes of an astronomer or astrophysicist is a fascinating place — and a good book can give you a glimpse of that world without requiring years of study. Here are the Space.com writers’ and editors’ recommendations of astronomy and astrophysics books that will thrill, puzzle, intrigue and blow your mind.
(We are constantly reading new and classic space books to find our favorite takes on the universe. Our recently-read books in all categories can be found at Best Space Books. You can see our ongoing Space Books coverage here.)
‘Facts From Space!’ (Adams Media, 2016)
By Dean Regas
For any space fan looking to learn crazy, fun facts about the universe, “Facts From Space!” is a great place to start. Dean Regas, an astronomer and public outreach educator for the Cincinnati Observatory, has gathered together all the cool, quirky and mind-blowing facts you probably never knew you’d want to know about the universe. Regas chronicles everything from the sometimes silly adventures of space travelers in Earth’s orbit and on the moon to black holes, galaxies and nebulas far away in deep space, listing all the best facts about the universe in a way that is fun and easy to read. Readers of all ages can understand and appreciate the contents of this book. No attention span is necessary to enjoy it — flip to any page and you’ll find a handful of short facts and cartoons that make learning about space a simple and entertaining experience. ~Hanneke Weitering
Space.com spoke with Dean Regas about making “Facts From Space!” exciting and accessible here.
‘Spooky Action at a Distance’ (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)
By George Musser
Space and time are weird. Human understanding of the universe relies on space and time separating things — one object cannot affect another unless they’re touching, or unless object A sends an intermediary out to touch object B, like a photon bouncing off of something and into your eye. All very straightforward, and good for scientific investigation.
But the problem is, there are hints that nature doesn’t actually work that way. This new book by science writer George Musser delves into the different ways that scientists are grappling with this concept of “nonlocality” — what Albert Einstein famously called “spooky action at a distance” in the quantum mechanics world. Particles that are entangled affect each other instantaneously even when separated; paradoxical black holes can be explained if the stuff sucked in exists inside their gravitational pull and on the surface at the same time. Musser explores the history of humans grappling with nonlocality and what these strange effects are teaching quantum mechanics researchers, astronomers, cosmologists and more about how the universe works — and while doing so, showing the messy, nonlinear and fascinating way researchers push forward to understand the physical world. ~Sarah Lewin
Read a Q&A with George Musser about his new book and the nature of reality here.
‘Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy’ (W. W. Norton, 1994)
By Kip Thorne
Theoretical astrophysicist Kip Thorne has spent his career exploring topics that once seemed relegated to science fiction, such as whether time travel is possible, and how humans could potentially travel from galaxy to galaxy via wormholes. In “Black Holes and Time Warps,” Thorne provides an introduction to these and other mind-bending topics, at a level appropriate for nonscientists. The book is not a light read — it goes deeper into the science than many pop physics books — but Thorne is the perfect person to take readers on this journey: He’s a patient and entertaining teacher, and he never loses the thread of the story. On top of the science lessons, Thorne introduces a cast of characters who pushed these fields forward, and chronicles the fight by American and Russian physicists to continue scientific collaboration during the Cold War. (Twenty years after its publication, Thorne talked with Space.com about the new science he would add to the book.) ~Calla Cofield
‘Cosmos’ (Random House, 1980)
By Carl Sagan
“Cosmos,” by famed astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan, is a deep dive into the history of science, philosophy and the universe. The book acts as a partner with Sagan’s beloved 1980s TV show, “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” This book is a beautiful glimpse inside one of the greatest scientific minds in history. While some of it may seem dated, the book still stands up as one of the best popular science books ever written, and the language is just beautiful. ~Miriam Kramer
‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark’ (Ballantine Books/Random House, 1995)
By Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan
Sagan was one of the 20th century’s greatest ambassadors and popularizers of science, and he doesn’t disappoint in “The Demon-Haunted World.” The book explains to laypeople just what science is, and how researchers use the process of scientific inquiry to understand the universe around us. There’s a lot of debunking in “The Demon-Haunted World” — of alien encounters, channeling and other paranormal experiences — and Sagan even provides readers a “baloney detection kit” to help them navigate a confusing and chaotic world. Like other Sagan works, this one is a fun and engaging read, but a great deal of ambition lurks beneath the fluid prose, as this quote from the book reveals: “If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.” ~Mike Wall
‘Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension’ (Oxford University Press, 1994)
By Michio Kaku
Our brains evolved to comprehend the world around us on a local and accessible scale. We’re really not equipped to understand the universe as a 10-dimensional entity — and yet “Hyperspace” explains this revolutionary idea in such a lucid and engaging way that it makes a good deal of sense. By the time you’re done reading this book, you’ll have a pretty solid grasp of why Kaku and other scientists think the basic forces in our universe — electromagnetism, gravity and the strong and weak nuclear forces — may actually just be vibrations in higher-dimensional space. And it’s an extremely fun read, too, with excursions into such sexy topics as parallel universes, time travel and wormholes. For example, did you know that you might be able to create a wormhole in your own kitchen using just an ice cube and a pressure cooker? All you have to do is figure out a way to heat the ice cube up to a temperature of 1032 degrees Kelvin. ~Mike Wall
We’re adding to these lists all the time; let us know your favorites in the comments below!
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