Tag Archives: reading list

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.” (amazon.com)

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.” (amazon.com)

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.” (amazon.com)

Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing “Hoax” by Philip C Plait
“Inspired by his popular web site, www.badastronomy.com, 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.” (amazon.com)

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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.” (amazon.com)

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.” (amazon.com)

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.” (amazon.com)

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.” (amazon.com)

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COSMOS Reading List – Episode 2: Some of the Things That Molecules Do

Last Sunday’s episode was all about the evolution of life on our world. Did it spark your interest in learning more about evolution, natural and artificial selection, and the Tree of Life?

Did you attend our viewing party at Mobius Science Center and hear Dr. Kamesh Sankaran speak about comets and asteroids and are now curious about learning about them more in-depth?


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


The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins (Auntie’s Bookstore)
“Dawkins sifts through rich layers of scientific evidence—from living examples of natural selection to clues in the fossil record; from natural clocks that mark the vast epochs wherein evolution ran its course to the intricacies of developing embryos; from plate tectonics to molecular genetics—to make the airtight case that “we find ourselves perched on one tiny twig in the midst of a blossoming and flourishing tree of life and it is no accident, but the direct consequence of evolution by non-random selection.”” (amazon.com)

What Evolution Is by Ernst Mayr (Auntie’s Bookstore)
“At once a spirited defense of Darwinian explanations of biology and an elegant primer on evolution for the general reader, What Evolution Is poses the questions at the heart of evolutionary theory and considers how our improved understanding of evolution has affected the viewpoints and values of modern man.” (amazon.com)

Comet by Carl Sagan
“Comet begins with a breathtaking journey through space astride a comet. Pulitzer Prize-winning astronomer Carl Sagan, author of Cosmos and Contact, and writer Ann Druyan explore the origin, nature, and future of comets, and the exotic myths and portents attached to them. The authors show how comets have spurred some of the great discoveries in the history of science and raise intriguing questions about these brilliant visitors from the interstellar dark.” (amazon.com)

Asteroids by Curtis Peebles
“Covering all aspects of asteroid investigation, Curtis Peebles shows how ideas about the orbiting boulders have evolved. He describes how such phenomena as the Moon’s craters and dinosaur extinction were gradually, and by some scientists grudgingly, accepted as the results of asteroid impacts. He tells how a band of icy asteroids rimming the solar system, first proposed as a theory in the 1940s, was ignored for more than forty years until renewed interest and technological breakthroughs confirmed the existence of the Kuiper Belt. Peebles also chronicles the discovery of Shoemaker-Levy 9, a comet with twenty-two nuclei that crashed into Jupiter in 1994, releasing many times the energy of the world’s nuclear arsenal.” (amazon.com)

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