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THE COSMOS KNOWING ITSELF

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Darrell Heath | Astronomy Columnist
Carl Sagan once said: “we
are a way for the universe to
know itself”. We are made
from elements common
throughout the universe,
elements that were forged
inside the cores of stars. We
are indeed the universe made
sentient. We are also imbued
with an intense curiosity to
learn more about the world
in which we live and to ask
questions such as “Who are
we?” “Where did we come
from?” and “What does it all
mean?” Learning about the
universe can be a humbling
experience but it also fills us
with much awe and wonder.
Here are some of my personal
choices to help you
learn more about the cosmos.
Books:
The Universe: The Definitive
Visual Guide by Robert
Dinwiddie and others, DK/
Smithsonian, 2012. As the
title suggests, this book relies
heavily on both wonderful
images as well as an informative
text. Since astronomy
is such a visual oriented science
this is a perfect format
for a book about space. With
over 500 pages and weighing
in at 6lbs this is a big book;
you can spend hours on end
exploring the many wonders
of the universe in this excellent
tome.
365 Starry Nights: An Introduction
to Astronomy
for Every Night of the Year
by Chet Raymo, Simon &
Schuster, 1990. Chet Raymo
is one of astronomy’s most
distinguished and eloquent
elder statesmen and this
book, while nowhere near
as massive as the previous
title, is a perfect way for
learning astronomy in bitesized
chunks. Just like it
says right there on the cover,
this book is divided up into
short entries (some only a
paragraph or two in length)
for every night of the year
and that explains the most
basic concepts in astronomy
in easy to understand terms.
Magazines:
There are lots of astronomy
magazines out there and
nowadays many of them are
available in both print and
digital versions. Here in the
United States there are two
that have been around for a
very long time: Astronomy
and Sky & Telescope. These
are great publications that
feature articles relating to
both the hobby and the science
of astronomy. My personal
pick for the beginner is
actually a Canadian publication:
SkyNews. It presents
articles in a much easier to
understand way than does
some other magazines. After
a while though you will
certainly want to subscribe
to the previously mentioned
periodicals. Also for the beginner
is StarDate Magazine,
a companion to the long running
syndicated radio show
of the same name.
The U.K also has some
worthy titles: The Sky at
Night (a companion to the
BBC TV show of the same
name, which also happens to
be one of the longest running
shows in TV history—1957
to the present!), Astronomy
Now, and All About Space
(a richly illustrated magazine
that does a fine job of
summarizing some of the
most current discoveries in
astronomy).
Websites:
NASA’s web site is a veritable
treasure trove of astronomy
content but I would
draw your attention also to
their Astronomy Picture of
the Day (APOD). Each day is
a wonderful new image that
showcases some aspect of
the universe and millions of
people from all around the
world follow it.
Astronomer Phil Plait
maintains an excellent blog
titled Bad Astronomy on the
Slate.com website. Phil is
great at explaining complex
subjects in easy to understand
language with liberal
doses of humor. Also, check
out his Crash Course Astronomy
video series done
in conjunction with PBS (you
can find it on the PBS website
or you can just search for
episodes on YouTube).
Universe Today is a website
devoted to bringing you
all the latest news and happenings
in the world of astronomy.
Podcasts:
AstronomyCast, hosted
by Universe Today founder
Fraser Cain and Dr. Pamela
Gay, is a half hour of very fun
discussions on a wide array
of astronomy related topics.
And it’s free!
StarDate, the radio show,
can be downloaded from
iTunes for free. Each entry
is about 5 minutes long and
does a fine job at bringing you
not only up to date on the latest
discoveries but the latest
goings on in your night sky.
Planetary Radio is the
podcast from The Planetary
Society about all the latest
research and missions taking
place within our own solar
system and beyond.
Apps:
There are scores of astronomy
related apps that
will show you not only what
is up in sky but will also provide
you with information as
to what you are seeing. Some
of my favorites include: Star
Walk, Sky Guide, Star Chart,
and Sky Safari.
TV and DVD:
There seems to be more
and more astronomy related
programming every year,
here are my top picks: “Cosmos:
A Personal Voyage” is
Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking
television show. Made
in 1980 and broadcast in 13
parts this is television at its
very finest. Check out the
tie in book by Sagan as well.
Also, be sure and watch the
revived series hosted by Neil
deGrasse Tyson, “Cosmos: A
Spacetime Odyssey”.
The History Channel’s
“The Universe” and The Discovery
Channel’s “How the
Universe Works” are well
worth your time as well and
are exemplars of education
as entertainment.
This list only scratches the
surface as to what all is out
there but it should provide
you with a great launching
point to begin your own adventures
in astronomy.