COSMOS Reading List – Episode 3: When Knowledge Conquered Fear

The third episode of COSMOS talked about comets, Edmund Halley, and Sir Isaac Newton (among other things). Our guest speaker for the weekly viewing party was Dr. Seth Shostack, an astronomer with the SETI Institute who has a deep interest in space exploration and astrobiology.

Did watching the episode and listening to the guest speaker spark your interest in learning more about these topics?


Here is a brief list of books to get you started (and as always those that can be found in some of our local independent bookstores have a note about that next to them):

Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas by Alan Cook
“Halley played a crucial role in the Newtonian revolution in the natural sciences. Indeed, Cook reveals that it was Halley who set the question that led Newton to write the Principia, and who edited, paid for, and reviewed it. The author also describes how Halley’s prediction of the transit of Venus led to Captain Cook’s voyage to Tahiti and to an accurate calculation of the distance between the Earth and Sun. Perhaps as important, the book examines Halley’s personal life, revealing a man who was far from a lab-bound thinker. As a young man, he sailed to St. Helena to chart the unmapped stars of the Southern Hemisphere. Moreover, Halley knew the leading artists of his age–Wren, Pepys, Handel, Purcell, and Dryden–and he travelled widely throughout Europe, meeting numerous fellow scientists and serving on a variety of diplomatic missions. He even spent a number of adventurous years as commander of a Royal Naval warship.” (

The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy by Isaac Newton (Auntie’s Bookstore)
“This book is a complete volume of Newton’s mathematical principles relating to natural philosophy and his system of the world. Newton, one of the most brilliant scientists and thinkers of all time, presents his theories, formulas and thoughts. Included are chapters relative to the motion of bodies; motion of bodies in resisting mediums; and system of the world in mathematical treatment; a section on axioms or laws of motion, and definitions.” (

Comets! Visitors from Deep Space by David J. Eicher (Auntie’s Bookstore)
“From ancient times, humans have been fascinated by “broom stars” and “blazing scimitars” lighting up the sky and moving against the fixed background of stars. The Great Comets of our time still receive in-depth attention – ISON, Hale-Bopp, Hyakutake, West, and others – while recent spacecraft encounters offer amazing insight into the earliest days of the solar system. In this guide you will discover the cutting-edge science of what comets are, how they behave, where they reside, how groups of comets are related, and much more. The author carefully explores the ideas relating comets and life on Earth – and the danger posed by impacts.” (

Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Seth Shostak (Auntie’s Bookstore)
“Aliens are big in America. Whether they’ve arrived via rocket, flying saucer, or plain old teleportation, they’ve been invading, infiltrating, or inspiring us for decades, and they’ve fascinated moviegoers and television watchers for more than fifty years. About half of us believe that aliens really exist, and millions are convinced they’ve visited Earth.  For twenty-five years, SETI has been looking for the proof, and as the program’s senior astronomer, Seth Shostak explains in this engrossing book, it’s entirely possible that before long conclusive evidence will be found.
His informative, entertaining report offers an insider’s view of what we might realistically expect to discover light-years away among the stars. Neither humanoids nor monsters, says Shostak; in fact, biological intelligence is probably just a precursor to machine beings, enormously advanced artificial sentients whose capabilities and accomplishments may have developed over billions of years and far exceed our own.” (

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