How can one not be fascinated by astronomy, the night skies, and outer space?
I recently visited the McDonald Observatory, operated by the University of Texas in Austin at a remote location in the beautiful Davis Mountains of West Texas, at an altitude of almost 7000 feet. These mountains have some of the darkest skies in the United States, get few clouds and even less rain, resulting in a perfect sky for astronomers. McDonald includes some of the world’s largest and most historic telescopes in three giant domes.
There are many great observatories around the world. This one does a particularly great job of outreach to the public – the Stardate radio program, publications, and on-site star parties and other events. It is a true nexus of learning for everyone from astrophysicists to tourists. I urge you to visit it, and to explore the “neighboring” attractions – including Carlsbad Caverns, Big Bend National Park, the art town of Marfa, and the Big Bend Museum in Alpine. There are many great places to stay, from historic hotels to B&Bs and campgrounds.
As I usually do, I had to spend some money in the gift store. Some of the books that really catch one’s eye are those filled with beautiful pictures of the cosmos, many taken from space-based telescopes like the Hubble. There are big books, little books, kids’ books, books with a few pictures, and books with a lot of pictures.
Of all those picture books, the one that took my breath away the most, with the most intense and recent photos of all aspects of space, is Cosmos: Images from Here to the Edge of the Universe with a foreword by Stephen Hawking (Duncan Baird Publishers, 2007).
Organized into Nebulas, Stars, Sun, Planets, Satellites, Galaxies and “Out There,” this tight smaller paperback is packed with the most amazing color photos, page after page of them. The images are accompanied by text which introduces you to each concept, and there is additional information on how the photos were taken and the telescopes used. It’s a great book and a real value.
While I am promoting this book, I also have to give high marks to a much bigger and more comprehensive, but equally beautiful book, called simply Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide by Robert Dinwiddie and others (Dorling Kindersley, paperback edition 2008). When I went to check on the status of this book – I have the older hardcover edition – I was actually shocked at its low price. This is a huge book, almost encyclopedic, and it’s no more expensive than the smaller book described above.  It’s from the same beautifully produced Dorling Kindersley science series that I have reviewed before (

Now I am having trouble figuring which book to recommend most strongly to you. If you want a book that you can hold in one hand and flip through and just focus on visual beauty, Cosmos is hard to beat. If, on the other hand, you want more and deeper information, coupled with more and larger amazing pictures, then go for the whole Universe. You can’t go wrong with either book. They are perfect for people of any age, and with any level of background in these subjects, even a novice like me.




Leave a Reply