The Stars of Heaven

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Do a little armchair space travel, rub elbows with alien life forms, and stretch your mind to the furthest corners of our uncharted universe. With this astonishing guide book, The Stars of Heaven, you need not be an astronomer to explore the mysteries of stars and their profound meaning for human existence.

Stars have fascinated humankind since the dawn of history and have allowed us to transcend ordinary lives in our literature, art, and religions. In fact, humans have always looked to the stars as a source of inspiration and transcendence that lifts us beyond the boundaries of ordinary intuition. In the tradition of One Two Three... Infinity, Pickover tackles a range of topics from stellar evolution to the fundamental and awe-inspiring reasons why the universe permits life to flourish. Where did we come from? What is the universe's ultimate fate? Pickover alternates sections that explaining the mysteries of the cosmos with sections that dramatize mind-expanding concepts through a fictional dialog between futuristic humans and their alien peers who embark on a journey beyond the reader's wildest imagination. This highly accessible and entertaining approach turns an intimidating subject into a scientific game open to all dreamers.

Told in Clifford Pickover's inimitable blend of fascinating state-of-the-art science and whimsical science fiction, and packed with numerous diagrams and illustrations, The Stars of Heaven unfolds a world of paradox and mystery, one that will intrigue anyone who has ever pondered the night sky with wonder.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Full of whimsy and sci-fi touches, such as an intergalatic art museum and some rather strange aliens, this book is equally full of facts and fun. Fanciful line drawings and diagrams throughout illustrate the key concepts explained by acclaimed science populist Clifford Pickover. Even if you don't have any background in astronomy, as Pickover says in his introduction: "By the time you finish this book, you'll be able to impress your friends with such arcane phrases as the Rydberg-Ritz formula, Paschen series, heliopause, helium flash, triple alpha processes, and Hertzsprung-Russell."
Kirkus Reviews
Ambitious overview of astronomy, by the author of Strange Brains and Genius (1998), whose material here seems far more often strewn than marshaled. Popular-science journalist Pickover's central belief-that the "stars of heaven" yield the essential secrets of existence itself and, in so doing, are a spiritual as well as scientific resource-is shared by many. Nonetheless, he spends too much of an overcrowded agenda initially selling this idea, invoking along the way everyone from Vincent van Gogh to Britney Spears. Even after this preamble, Pickover feels obliged to employ a SF scenario featuring a cast of hyperevolved extraterrestrials to add flair to his illumination of various stellar phenomena. Unfortunately, since he also uses these characters to relentlessly flaunt his erudition and grasp of biochemistry, it doesn't work. After plodding through endless digressions in the fictionally enhanced sessions, lay readers will likely yearn to relax with the more formal discourse that reprises each. These are indeed packed with facts and figures. (For example: A solar granule is about the size of the state of California.) The author's failure to initially focus, however, means he must bob and weave through a capsule history of astronomy and the basic processes of the stellar/solar furnace before settling into what he really wants to write about: how we got here, where we're going, and why. It is only in these latter sections, credibly merging points of scientific departure with informed speculation, that Pickover finally finds fourth gear. By projecting the fate of carbon-based life as we know it (or perhaps don't yet) in terms of galactic evolution, he mostly avoids the stupefyingstrings and beads of the quantum geeks and gives us the vision of a palpable universe, marching forward to somewhere. Finding God in the details is possible, but labor-intensive.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195171594
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/5/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Clifford A. Pickover is an associate editor of several journals, prolific inventor, and puzzle columnist for magazines such as Discover. Pickover is also the author of many best-selling books on popular science topics. He lives in Yorktown Heights, New York.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Stellar Parallax and the Quest for Transcendence 1
Ch. 2 The Joy and Paschen of Starlight 14
Ch. 3 Spectral Classes, Temperatures, and Doppler Shifts 39
Ch. 4 Luminosity and the Distance Modulus 58
Ch. 5 Hertzsprung-Russell, Mass-Luminosity Relations, and Binary Stars 71
Ch. 6 Last Tango on the Heliopause 90
Ch. 7 Stellar Evolution and the Helium Flash 117
Ch. 8 Stellar Graveyards, Nucleosynthesis, and Why We Exist 142
Ch. 9 Some Final Thoughts 188
Notes 198
App. 1 Stars in the Bible 212
App. 2 Updates and Breakthroughs 217
Further Reading 224
About the Author 226
Index 229
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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
In his song "Farmer's Almanac," Johnny Cash sings these beautiful words: "God gave us the darkness so we could see the stars." I kept repeating Cash's verse on stars as I wrote The Stars of Heaven. As with many of my books, The Stars of Heaven is meant to stretch your imagination and touch on subjects on the edges of science, art, and even religion. Let me tell you how the book started...

A few years ago I was walking in a field when I came upon a large skull. It was probably from a bear, although I like to imagine it was part of the remains of a prehistoric mammal that once roamed Westchester County, New York. I'm a collector of prehistoric skulls. In my office, I have a skull of a saber-toothed tiger. This killing machine had huge, daggerlike canine teeth and a mouth that could open 90 degrees to clear the sabers for their killing bite.

When I run my fingers lingeringly over the skulls, I am sometimes reminded of stars in the heavens. Without stars, there could be no skulls. The elements in bone, like calcium, were first created in the hot stellar furnaces and then blown into space when the stars died. Without stars there would be no elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, and, therefore, life would never have evolved. There would be no planets, no microbes, no plants, no tigers, no humans.

In my book, you'll do a little armchair space travel, rub elbows with alien life forms, and glimpse the furthest corners of our uncharted universe. Stars have fascinated humankind since the dawn of history and have allowed us to transcend ordinary lives in our literature, art, and religion. Where did we come from? What is the universe's ultimate fate? Are there other universes we can never see? Was our universe designed by a god?

In about 5 billion years, the hydrogen fuel in our sun will be exhausted in its core, and the sun will begin to die and dramatically expand, becoming a red giant. At some point, our oceans will boil away. As Freeman Dyson once said, "No matter how deep we burrow into the Earth...we can only postpone by a few million years our miserable end." Where will humans be, a few billion years from now, at the end of the world? It seems so sad. However, I don't think we have to mourn for humanity. In a few billion years, humans will probably have downloaded their minds to computers, left the solar system in some great diaspora, and sought their salvation in the stars.

You can tell that my book is an amalgam of science fiction, science fact, religion, art and science. It's also a serious astronomy primer covering all the basics of stellar structure and evolution and also on creative theories about our place in this grand universe. I've touched on similar cosmic topics on the borderlands of science before, and I hope you'll take a look at some of my other books, for example: Black Holes: A Traveler's Guide, Time: A Traveler's Guide, Surfing Through Hyperspace, The Science of Aliens, and The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience. Please visit my web page,, and join our discussions on The Stars of Heaven and all my other books. I leave you with an appropriate Serbian proverb to get your mind in gear: "Be humble for you are made of dung. Be noble for you are made of stars." (Clifford Pickover)

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