NASA’s universe literally at your fingertips

Posted by Sarah Scoles
on Monday, January 14, 2013

Now that you’ve relegated all those weird books you received over the holidays to the shelf for dust collection, it’s time to pick up a book — or two — of your own choosing. For your consideration, I present the latest

NASA's new ebooks are full of interactive image galleries like this one about solar system formation.
in NASA’s line of e-books: Hubble Space Telescope: Discoveries and Webb Space Telescope: Science Guide.

Both are available for free and can be purchased either as interactive e-books for the iPad or as static PDFs for e-readers, tablets, and computers. The interactive versions include movies, simulations, clickable image galleries, and manipulable 3-D models. The PDFs may be less dynamic, but they are filled with the kinds of “Wow, that beautiful thing is really just sitting out there in space?” images we’ve come to expect from NASA’s space-based telescopes.

In the book about Hubble, readers learn about the mission’s history and evolution and the science that researchers do with all those pretty images. The book doesn’t just show how the universe looks; it also discusses (and demonstrates, at least on the iPad) how researchers gain quantitative, analytical information from images.

Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be launched in 2018. Its mirror is almost seven times as big as Hubble’s, meaning that it can see fainter objects even better and view everything in more detail. It will collect light at lower energies than we can see — infrared light — which will allow scientists to study distant galaxies and peer into clouds of dust that obscure optical light. Webb Space Telescope: Science Guide focuses more on technology than Hubble Space Telescope: Discoveries does, since Webb hasn’t yet made any discoveries. Still, like the book about Hubble, Webb’s guide describes not only the (future) science but also the methods behind the discoveries.

Way to go, NASA, for embracing rocket-launching, big-mirrored technology and earthbound, human-centric technology. Now, anyone with a computer can tour not only the universe but also the ways in which we plumb its depths.

Information about how to download the books, as well as PDF versions, is available at http://hubblesite.org/ibooks/.

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