The Alchemy of the Heavens

The Alchemy of the Heavens : Captivating Journey Through the Modern Astronomy of the Milky Way

4.25 (43 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

In the last forty years scientists have made stunning discoveries about the Milky Way Galaxy, home of the Earth, Sun, and countless other stars. In the first popular account of these discoveries, Ken Croswell describes current thinking on the Milky Way and reveals how knowledge of the Galaxy can give us insight into the origins of the universe as a whole. He introduces us to the astronomers who have contributed to our understanding of the Galaxy, and explains new research showing that there may be a black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, with a million times more mass than the Sun, and that the oldest stars preserve the elements created in the big bang, thereby serving as `fossils' of the universe's earliest days. This book is intended for students and scientists working in the field of Astronomy. Anyone interested in the origins of the universe.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 120 x 190mm | 288g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Paperbacks
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 8 pp plates, line figures, bibliography
  • 0192861921
  • 9780192861924

Review Text

Though well-informed, this history of astronomy caters to the insider rather than the intrigued novice. Science journalist Croswell presents a history of the Milky Way focusing on the changing theories about its origin, age, size, and shape. He explains why some stars are more luminous than others and describes the discovery that key elements like helium, lithium, and hydrogen were formed "in the fiery aftermath of the big bang." In early chapters he offers simple, elucidating metaphors to make his sophisticated material more familiar. But this kind of translation is quickly abandoned, and the book contains too much math and physics and too little explanation of how the theories connect and what's at stake to appeal to readers with little background in astronomy. It becomes clear that, as he writes, the story of the Milky Way is a "deeply human story, full of colorful and controversial characters," but Croswell takes the stance of an insider rather than a journalist, providing only snippets and sketchy portraits. Some stories are fleshed out, like the collaboration of astronomers E. Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge, William Fowler, and Fred Hoyle (commonly known as BFH) on the theory that the elements originated in the stars; the Nobel Prize that went to Fowler alone for this work; and the obstacles women faced breaking down the sexist barriers in astronomy. Croswell's narrative of these events provides a rare and welcome balance to his zeal for technical detail. This work will leave readers feeling as though they are looking at the heavens through the wrong end of a telescope. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

43 ratings
4.25 out of 5 stars
5 53% (23)
4 26% (11)
3 14% (6)
2 7% (3)
1 0% (0)
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