These four resources are just a few I’m using to expand my knowledge of astronomy.
Care to take part in the astronomical education of an editor? I recently joined the Astronomy
staff as the managing editor, helping to guide and manage the ship but not bringing any formal astronomy background along with me. Being a lifelong lover of learning, albeit mostly in history and literature, I’m planning to educate myself as best I can about astronomy, given my time and energy, and I’d love to hear your suggestions. Are there books, websites, videos, or films that really contributed to your understanding of astronomy or stimulated your interest in it? Please email
For now, I’ve assembled at least part of the framework for my self-education plan. See what you think:
• First, methodically work my way through a couple of very basic texts, including Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide, edited by Martin Rees, from the brilliant publisher DK. (Does anyone do graphic design better than DK?)
• Flesh out the texts by reading A Question and Answer Guide to Astronomy by Pierre-Yves Bely, Carol Christian, and Jean-Rene Roy (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
• Come at the topic from some different directions by reading Timothy Ferris’ Coming of Age in the Milky Way (Anchor, 1989), billed as “a breathtaking tour of astronomy and the brilliant, eccentric personalities who have shaped it,” and The Glass Giant of Palomar by David O. Woodbury (Dodd, Mead, 1963). My magazine colleagues Dave Eicher and Michael Bakich highly recommend Palomar as an absorbing account of the building of the great telescope near San Diego. (I found the review at Amazon.com by John Rummel irresistible: “The original account of the building of the 200-inch telescope … has the advantage of proximity in time — [Woodbury] interviewed and walked among the men who were responsible for the construction of this instrument, and gained the confidence of many. The book is a perfect mix of exquisite technical detail ... and poetic admiration for the vision that drove the project. He captured the very human spirit of the scientists, workman, technicians, and even janitors who worked on the project. … Five stars easily, for this 60 year old work!”)
• Dive into the array of resources available at our magazine’s website, Astronomy.com, especially installments of Astronomy 101 and Liz and Bill’s Cosmic Adventures, and read some of Astronomy’s appealing supplements, including Bob Berman’s 50 Weirdest Objects in the Cosmos, The Milky Way Inside and Out, and Cosmology’s Greatest Discoveries. (By the way, our latest supplement, Explore the Solar System, which I helped edit as part of my new job, provides a helpful overview and superb pictures. If you’re looking for a gift to stimulate someone’s astronomical interest, this is a terrific bargain at $8.95.)
• Take a run through some of the many cosmology and astronomy learning videos from the Khan Academy and tool around YouTube for additional astronomy videos.
• Re-watch Brian Greene’s great four-part PBS series based on The Fabric of the Cosmos and read a few of his books.
Well, that’s enough to keep me going awhile — along with a visit to a star party and a night telescope viewing at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. At the end of this pedagogical journey, I wonder, will I have come up with a more sophisticated word to describe my general reaction to astronomy than the one I currently find myself using at least once a week — mind-boggling?