Reviewed by Jean Worsley
Retired Biology Teacher
In a concise format, the author describes the achievements of thirty–seven men and women who sought to understand the mysteries of the universe. The timeline spans from Ancient Greece to Space Exploration in the 21st century.
Early explanations of astronomical phenomena were based on what could be seen with the human eye and mathematical calculations. Readers will be amazed to learn how much information was amassed, such as the size and movement of celestial bodies, distances from the Earth, and catalogs of stars. These pioneers laid the foundation for future studies in astronomy.
For many years, a geocentric view of the solar system persisted which thwarted advancements in astronomy. Years later, it was replaced by a Sun–centered system or heliocentric view. A brief biography of each of these pioneers from different cultures and countries is provided, beginning in childhood—their family relationships, obstacles they encountered, and their education. It reveals how tenacity, curiosity, and thirst for adventure and knowledge led to further understanding of the universe. When you read about their plights, just think of the exhilaration they must have experienced.
It is interesting to read about the Cassini family–four generations of astronomers. The author clearly describes observations, experiments, discoveries, theories, laws, and publications (books, catalogs) made by each pioneer. Also listed are awards received, funding sources, and positions held by these pioneers. It is noted that the invention of the telescope ushered in a new era in astronomy. Many earlier ideas about the universe were disproved. Consequently, many new discoveries, such as Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, the wave theory of light, Newton’s law of gravitation, Halley’s Comet, theories of the structure of nebulae, and discovery of infrared radiation, were made.
Further, improved techniques led to the development of more innovations and powerful telescopes, such as the reflecting and refracting telescopes. The role that these pioneers played in observatories around the world is brought to the forefront. Moreover, communication among these pioneers fostered the advancement of astronomy as they built on discoveries by others. As knowledge of the solar system expanded, man’s curiosity to understand what was beyond the Earth soared. It is of interest to note how science fiction writers and the comic strips of “Buck Rogers” and “Flash Gordon” influenced space exploration. Readers will learn that the age of space exploration progressed with experiments in rocketry, followed by the invention of the Hubble Telescope and the discovery of galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Eventually, this led to spaceflights and space walks by astronauts landing on the Moon and space shuttle missions. Women who participated in these missions are also included. Today, manned and unmanned missions continue to explore mysteries of outer space.
Striking photographs are found throughout the book. A glossary, a section on More Information, Web Sites, and Index are also included. This book will give readers background information on the history of man’s quest to learn and understand the mysteries of the universe.
Review posted on 1/4/2013