COSMOS Reading List – Episode 4: A Sky Full of Ghosts

Last Sunday’s episode of COSMOS talked about the speed of light, gravity, black holes, and William Herschel, among other things. And Don, our speaker for the week at our COSMOS viewing party, talked about scientific myths and hoaxes.

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


Here is a brief list of books to get you started (with a note next to those that can be found at some of our local, independent bookstores):

An Introduction to Black Holes, Information and The String Theory Revolution; The Holographic Universe by Leonard Susskind and James Lindsay
“Over the last decade the physics of black holes has been revolutionized by developments that grew out of Jacob Bekenstein s realization that black holes have entropy. Stephen Hawking raised profound issues concerning the loss of information in black hole evaporation and the consistency of quantum mechanics in a world with gravity. For two decades these questions puzzled theoretical physicists and eventually led to a revolution in the way we think about space, time, matter and information. This revolution has culminated in a remarkable principle called The Holographic Principle , which is now a major focus of attention in gravitational research, quantum field theory and elementary particle physics. Leonard Susskind, one of the co-inventors of the Holographic Principle as well as one of the founders of String theory, develops and explains these concepts.” (

Discoverers of the Universe: William and Caroline Herschel by Michael Hoskin
“Discoverers of the Universe tells the gripping story of William Herschel, the brilliant, fiercely ambitious, emotionally complex musician and composer who became court astronomer to Britain’s King George III, and of William’s sister, Caroline, who assisted him in his observations of the night sky and became an accomplished astronomer in her own right. Together, they transformed our view of the universe from the unchanging, mechanical creation of Newton’s clockmaker god to the ever-evolving, incredibly dynamic cosmos that it truly is.” (

Gravity’s Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos by Caleb Scharf (Auntie’s Bookstore)
“We’ve long understood black holes to be the points at which the universe as we know it comes to an end. Often billions of times more massive than the Sun, they lurk in the inner sanctum of almost every galaxy of stars in the universe. They’re mysterious chasms so destructive and unforgiving that not even light can escape their deadly wrath.
  Recent research, however, has led to a cascade of new discoveries that have revealed an entirely different side to black holes. As the astrophysicist Caleb Scharf reveals in Gravity’s Engines, these chasms in space-time don’t just vacuum up everything that comes near them; they also spit out huge beams and clouds of matter. Black holes blow bubbles.
  With clarity and keen intellect, Scharf masterfully explains how these bubbles profoundly rearrange the cosmos around them. Engaging with our deepest questions about the universe, he takes us on an intimate journey through the endlessly colorful place we call our galaxy and reminds us that the Milky Way sits in a special place in the cosmic zoo—a “sweet spot” of properties. Is it coincidental that we find ourselves here at this place and time? Could there be a deeper connection between the nature of black holes and their role in the universe and the phenomenon of life? We are, after all, made of the stuff of stars.” (

Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing “Hoax” by Philip C Plait
“Inspired by his popular web site,, this first book by Plait (astronomy, Sonoma State Univ.) debunks popular myths and misconceptions relating to astronomy and promotes science as a means of explaining our mysterious heavens. The work describes 24 common astronomical fallacies, including the beliefs that the Coriolis effect determines the direction that water drains in a bathtub and that planetary alignments can cause disaster on Earth. The author sharply and convincingly dismisses astrology, creationism, and UFO sightings and explains the principles behind basic general concepts (the Big Bang, why the sky is blue, etc.). Though some may find him strident, Plait succeeds brilliantly because his clear and understandable explanations are convincing and honest.” (

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