Space Encyclopedia
by David A. Aguilar

Price at time of review: $24.95
191 pp.
National Geographic Society
Washington, DC
ISBN: 9781426309489

Grade Level: 5-12

Reviewed by Cary Seidman
Science Teacher

This wonderful vol­ume succeeds on so many levels, it is hard to know where to begin. In a most effective organizational scheme, author and illustrator David Aguilar of the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics weaves well–known information about astronomy into more recent research into dark matter in an introductory section entitled “What We Know.” In this section and throughout the book, Aguilar presents our current knowledge about space along with the tantalizing, open–ended questions that make the field so interesting for students.

Teachers will find the section on the solar system updated and stimulating. Listing Pluto as one of four dwarf planets, joining Haumea, Makemake, and Eris, Aguilar describes recent findings about these unfamiliar worlds as well as the traditional eight planets and the asteroid belt. He creates an imaginary spacecraft called “Stella Nova” for his tour. Students should have no trouble distinguishing between Aguilar’s speculative and beautiful illustrations of what we might see if we were to visit the different planets from the photographic evidence we have received from several decades of space probes. Continuing his tour outward from the solar system, Aguilar does a creditable job of explaining the concept of the light year, stellar birth and death, the several ways in which stars end their lives, the existence of solar systems around other stars, and much more. Students will learn about the current limits to our hard knowledge about dark matter and the possible existence of other universes, all presented in language that is at once accessible and informative.

Even the most avid young space enthusiasts will not feel that they are being “talked down to.” The concluding sections deal with extraterrestrial life and space colonization. In these areas, so replete with entertaining but wholly make–believe speculation in the popular media, Aguilar strikes just the right note between imaginative fantasy and rational, realistic discussion of a possible space–faring future. If this new space encyclopedia were presented as exclusively a picture book, perhaps with a few notes of explanation, it would be a worthwhile purchase. With its cutting edge knowledge, superior organizational plan, and clear, informative text, it will become a classroom treasure.

Review posted on 10/4/2013

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