Recently there's been a run of coffee-table books combining elegant astronomical photographs with brief, friendly exegeses of the science behind them (e.g., Ken Croswell's Magnificent Universe, Forecasts, Sept. 6). But for adults and young people who enjoy brilliant, striking images--here, of lunar craters, of Neptune's Great Dark Spot, of distant galaxies, of mysterious, color-coded gas clouds--the more space photos the better, and this collection furnishes plenty of splendid ones. Trefil (The Moment of Creation), a professor of physics at George Mason University, does a fine job of making available to readers what astronomers know about Saturn, supernovas and so on, while finding room for colorful tidbits: Uranus's slim rings, for example, "reflect light about as poorly as charcoal," and circle that giant planet in just eight hours. Astronomy students use a cute mnemonic ("O Be a Fine Guy, Kiss Me") for the seven-letter codes that denote a star's brightness, from O (quite hot) to M (cool, for a star). Each planet (Earth included) gets its own photos and its own prose; other topics include the sun, the moon, "The Birth of the Solar System," quasars, black holes and SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). The photographs themselves, many of them color-enhanced, are stunning. Stars in the Sagittarius cluster gleam like gems from a decadent tiara; a planetary nebula called the Egg looks more like a purple-winged tropical bird, while the Antennae galaxies in collision lend themselves to a magnificent two-page spread of lavender and taupe, white, gold and amethyst. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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