Astronomical Enigmas: Life on Mars, the Star of Bethlehem, and Other Milky Way Mysteries

Overview

Questions about the heavens are as old as civilization, perhaps as old as language itself. Is this universe infinite? What are the lights we see in the sky? In the millennia since our distant ancestors first looked up, these basic questions have been answered in countless ways, while other, more difficult questions have arisen and been answered in turn. This insatiable curiosity is fundamental to our nature, and as we learn more about our universe, we better understand our place...

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Overview

Questions about the heavens are as old as civilization, perhaps as old as language itself. Is this universe infinite? What are the lights we see in the sky? In the millennia since our distant ancestors first looked up, these basic questions have been answered in countless ways, while other, more difficult questions have arisen and been answered in turn. This insatiable curiosity is fundamental to our nature, and as we learn more about our universe, we better understand our place in it.

Astronomer Mark Kidger has spent his career helping the general public understand the nature of the universe and what astronomy can tell us about its composition, history, and future. In Astronomical Enigmas, he presents the questions he is asked most frequently and offers answers that are at once clear, succinct, and stimulating.

Kidger begins by exploring the heavens from the perspective of our forebears, moving from Stonehenge and the earliest theories about the planets and stars to one of the great historical mysteries in astronomy: the identity of the star of Bethlehem. He then answers questions that provoke some of the most passionate and heated arguments between astronomers: Is there life on Mars? Is Pluto a planet? What did we learn by going to the Moon? He uses these questions to look at how astronomers deduce information about objects they could never visit. Finally, Kidger looks to the future by examining two urgent questions—the possibility that an asteroid might devastate life on Earth and the impact of climate change as witnessed on other planets—before coming full circle to look at our own origins, answering the question "Are we stardust?" The answer is as astonishing as it is unexpected. Witty, engaging, and accessible, Astronomical Enigmas is a terrific way for anyone who is fascintated by the skies to learn how much we know about our solar system—and how much there still is to discover.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Lunar Planetary Information Bulletin

He answers questions that provoke some of the most passionate and heated arguments between astronomers. Astronomical Enigmas illustrates how much we know about our solar system, and how much there still is to discover.

Choice

A refreshing and successful departure from the traditional approach to an introductory astronomy book... An excellent book that spans a wide range of topics.

Key Reporter

Mark Kidger, having looked into interesting nooks and crannies of astronomy, has brought a dozen topics he found there to the general public... I will look forward to his sequel.

Air & Space Smithsonian - George Whitesides

Quite engaging... serves up an elucidating overview of the big questions in astronomy, providing the reader with a commanding level of knowledge.

NSTA Recommends - Donald Logsdon

In this highly interesting volume, an astronomer asks general-interest questions and provides solid scientific answers... packed with information.

Washington Times - Jeffrey Marsh

Mr. Kidger's lively writing and clear exposition make the book both enjoyable and informative.

Australian Physics - Nick Lomb

Highly recommended as an informative read and a good reference to many of the controversial areas of astronomy.

Spaceflight - Peter D. Mata

Easy to read but not easy to put down!

Science Books and Films - Katherine Haramundanis

A beautifully written book packed with narrative answers to major astronomical topics of current interest.

Magill Book Reviews - Alvin K. Benson

Fascinating read.

Observatory Magazine - Colin Cooke

The book is well produced and is written with enthusiasm in a clear and informal style.

Choice

A refreshing and successful departure from the traditional approach to an introductory astronomy book... An excellent book that spans a wide range of topics.

Publishers Weekly
In 12 delightful chapters, astronomer Kidger takes us on a tour of the solar system, addressing an array of fascinating questions, not all of which he can answer. For example, Kidger is unable to conclude for what ultimate purpose Stonehenge was built, noting that since construction occurred over a 1,500-year period, the purposes no doubt changed over the centuries. (He does deftly debunk some common myths about the site.) The author thoroughly entertains while providing a great deal of intriguing material on the Star of Bethlehem, the possibility of life on Mars and whether Pluto should be considered a planet or merely a trans-Neptunian object. Kidger is also superb at explaining how scientists can learn so much about astronomical objects without ever leaving home, and he writes eloquently about why we must continue to explore the heavens via manned space flight. Finally, he explains why we needn't worry-at least not for many hundreds of years-about a killer asteroid smashing into the Earth. What we probably should worry about, he says, is a runaway greenhouse effect fueled by human activity that might bring about planetary change similar to what probably happened naturally on Venus. Kidger's playful but informed style makes the book a joy to read. 63 four-color images not seen by PW. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801880261
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Kidger is an astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias who works at the observatories in La Palma and Tenerife.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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