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The Alchemy of the Heavens: Searching for Meaning in the Milky Way

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Croswell skillfully leads the reader through a detailed survey of current thinking on the Milky Way. He reveals, for example, that the Milky Way probably formed as many earlier galaxies smashed together; that many of the elements on the Earth, including the iron and oxygen that course through our bodies, were cast into space by exploding supernovae; that in all likelihood there is a massive black hole at the center of the Galaxy, with a million times more mass than the Sun; and that the Milky Way's oldest stars ...
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Overview

Croswell skillfully leads the reader through a detailed survey of current thinking on the Milky Way. He reveals, for example, that the Milky Way probably formed as many earlier galaxies smashed together; that many of the elements on the Earth, including the iron and oxygen that course through our bodies, were cast into space by exploding supernovae; that in all likelihood there is a massive black hole at the center of the Galaxy, with a million times more mass than the Sun; and that the Milky Way's oldest stars preserve the elements created in the big bang, thereby serving as "fossils" of the universe's earliest days. Along the way Croswell also introduces us to the brilliant astronomers who made some of these discoveries, and recounts the fierce debates that have driven forward our understanding of the Galaxy. Finally, and perhaps most important, we see how knowledge about the Galaxy in particular can give us tremendous insight into the origins of the universe as a whole.

With a remarkable ability to make the most difficult concepts clear, Croswell skillfully leads the reader through a detailed survey of current thinking on the Milky Way, introducing the brilliant astronomers who have made critical discoveries and recounting the fierce debates that have helped fuel our understanding of the galaxy. Photos & illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Croswell, an astronomer and experienced science writer, has authored an up-to-date and quite readable overview of our present knowledge concerning the Milky Way. Much of this survey concerns relatively recent discoveries about our galaxy, especially those of the last few decades. In a relaxed style suitable for the general reader, the author recounts important developments in historical context, drawing where possible on interviews with the astronomers who were involved. The work is thus strongly flavored with human interest and some sense of how the science was accomplished. Examples of the numerous topics considered are stellar populations, conflicting models of galactic birth and the origin of the elements-hence ``alchemy.'' The implications of galactic phenomena for cosmology are emphasized. This enlightening and entertaining account has an unfortunate title that is an inadequate clue to its contents. Illustrations. May
Library Journal
Croswell, a writer for popular science magazines, offers an excellent overview of current thinking on the structure and evolution of our home galaxy. Beginning with a quick tour of the Milky Way, its ten satellite bodies, and the "Local Group," the author places the sun and other familiar stars within the galaxy's distinct segments. He recounts the early, stumbling progress of astronomers toward an understanding of the Milky Way and other massive, isolated collections of stars, which came to be revealed as such only through the flurry of discoveries and technical advancements made in this century. While some material is more accessible to specialists, Croswell does an admirable job of linking a knowledge of the Milky Way's components, dynamics, and evolution to even greater cosmological questions: the age, mass, and ultimate fate of the universe. For public and academic libraries.-Patrick Dunn, East Tennessee State Univ. Lib., Johnson City
Gilbert Taylor
Once proved, in the 1930s, that the white trail across the nocturnal sky was our edge on view of a rotating spiral galaxy, astronomers have been intent on discovering the composition and evolution of that immense structure, one arm of which slings the sun around every 200 million years. Croswell's well-written, crystal-clear presentation elucidates current controversies, such as the paradox that the Milky Way's oldest stars appear to be older than the age of the universe, by showing the science dynamic--observation and theory--in action. How such problems arise and the avenues to possible solutions encompass the sub-field of stellar "demographics," as Croswell dubs the typology of stars, and another branch tackles the question of origin: did the galaxy accrete from gas, or did it form after collisions with small galaxies? Covering kinetics, chemistry, and the scientists, this work will snare all general reading interests. With no other popular work available on the Milky Way, libraries pass over this at peril of patron ire.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385472135
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/1/1995
  • Edition description: 1st Anchor Books ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 52

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