Our Universe

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. To celebrate, explore our amazing universe through these books and films at the Library.

General | Moon | Sun & Stars | Mars | Comets & Galaxies | Films | Recommended Websites


The New Solar System
Edited by J. Kelly Beatty, Carolyn Collins Petersen, and Andrew Chaikin
A distinguished team of researchers, many of them Principal Investigators on NASA missions, explain the solar system. The book examines the latest research and thinking about the solar system; looks at how the Sun and planets formed; and discusses our search for other planetary systems and the search for life in the solar system. In full-color and heavily-illustrated, the book contains more than 500 photographs, portrayals, and diagrams.

Event: Astronaut Steven Hawley, July 7
Exhibit: Visions of the Universe: Four Centuries of Discovery, July 5-August 30

Beyond: Visions of Interplanetary Probes
By Michael Benson
Since the 1960s NASA has been sending unmanned satellites to explore the planets, moons, and sun. Michael Benson has spent years compiling and digitally processing the best of these images and has pulled together the most spectacular of them into this volume that presents these photographs for the first time as art.

By Carl Sagan
Cosmos is an overview of the past, present, and future of science. Brilliant and provocative, it traces today's knowledge and scientific methods to their historical roots, blending science and philosophy in a wholly energetic and irresistible way.

Imagining the Universe: A Visual Journey
By Edward Packard
Using startling images instead of mind-numbing math (or astronomical terms that leave us dumbfounded), Imagining the Universe allows readers to visualize space and time as never before. As the book progresses, the words and pictures take readers to the farthest reaches of outer space and into the confines of the infinitesimal world of the microuniverse.

The Planets
By Dava Sobel
Sobel brings science and history deftly to life as she explores the origins of the planets and reveals the exotic environments that exist in each of these fascinating alien worlds.

Hubble Space Telescope book jacket

Hubble Space Telescope: New Views of the Universe
By Mark Voit
This poster-size book on Hubble's dramatic discoveries presents the Hubble images of nebulae, emerging stars, and other celestial phenomena that have electrified us all.

Tycho & Kepler: The Unlikely Partnership that Forever Changed Our Understanding of the Heavens
By Kitty Ferguson
Set in a turbulent and colorful era in European history, Tycho & Kepler is both a highly original dual biography and a masterful recreation of how science advances. Ferguson recounts a fascinating interplay of science and religion, politics and personality. Her insights recolor the established characters of astronomers Tycho and Kepler, and her book opens a rich window onto our place in the universe.

Dark Side of the Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Fate of the Cosmos
By Iain Nicolson
For the general reader and armchair astronomer alike, Iain Nicolson's fascinating account shows how our ideas about the nature and the content of the universe have developed. He highlights key discoveries, explains underlying concepts, and examines current thinking on dark matter and dark energy. He describes techniques that astronomers use to explore the remote recesses of the cosmos in their quest to understand its composition, evolution, and ultimate fate.


The Big Splat book jacket

The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be
By Dana Mackenzie
This book explains the current theory behind the moon's genesis. This lively science history relates one of the great recent breakthroughs in astronomy – a successful theory of the birth of the moon. Respected science journalist Dana Mackenzie traces the evolution of this theory: that an object collided with Earth some four billion years ago and the remains of this explosion – the Big Splat – coalesced to form the moon. Beginning with notions of the moon in classical cosmology, Mackenzie relates the fascinating history of lunar speculation, moving from Galileo and Newton to George Darwin (son of Charles) and modern astronauts and astronomers.

What If the Moon Didn’t Exist?: Voyages to Earths That Might Have Been
By Neil F. Comins
What if we had two moons? Or if the earth were less dense, or if our solar system were younger? Comins analyzes how differences would affect the plant, animal, and human life on our planet. It is a fascinating examination of the earth's place in the solar system--and just how fragile that place is.

Sun & Stars

Nearest Star book jacket

Nearest Star: The Surprising Science of Our Sun
By Leon Golub and Jay M. Pasachoff
Two of the world's leading solar scientists show how astronomers study the Sun and what they have discovered about phenomena from eclipses to neutrinos, space weather, and global warming. The book includes illustrations from the latest solar missions and the newest telescopes.

Extreme Stars: At the Edge of Creation
By James B. Kaler
Extreme Stars describes the lives of stars from a new perspective by examining their amazing features. The result is a refreshing, up-to-date, and engaging overview of stellar evolution, suitable for everyone interested in viewing or studying the stars.

The Hundred Greatest Stars
By James B. Kaler
In this arresting and lavishly illustrated volume, noted astronomy writer and teacher Jim Kaler chose 100 stars to illustrate the mind-boggling variety of the stars' shapes and sizes, their immense ages, and the vast range of configurations in which they exist.

Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos
By Alan W. Hirshfeld
The true stories of three 19th century astronomers who, armed with the best telescopes of the age, race to meet the day's most daunting astronomical challenge: measuring the distance to a star.


Postcards from Mars book jacket

Postcards from Mars: The First Photographer on the Red Planet 
By Jim Bell
The first photographic tour of the surface of another planet has now been accomplished. Readers will marvel at this awesome, vivid, beautiful portrait of what it is like to take a stroll on Mars.

A Traveler's Guide to Mars: The Mysterious Landscapes of the Red Planet
By William K. Hartmann
In this Baedeker, prodigiously illustrated with photographs from Mariner 9, Viking, Pathfinder, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the ongoing mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, visitors will encounter: Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system; Tharsis Planitia, the "high plains of Mars," with plains rising 29,000 feet; Valles Marineris, an equatorial canyon so vast that America's Grand Canyon would be a mere tributary; and more.

Comets & Galaxies

Chasing Hubble’s Shadows book jacket

Chasing Hubble’s Shadows: The Search for Galaxies at the Edge of Time
By Jeff Kanipe
The author presents an account of the continuing efforts of astronomers to probe the outermost limits of the observable universe with the telescopes that promise to yield clues to many cosmic puzzles, including the nature of the mysterious "dark energy" that is now believed to pervade all of space.

Great Comets
By Robert Burnham
This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of the biggest and most awe-inspiring of all comets: those that have earned the title "Great." Robert Burnham focuses on the Great comets Hyakutake in 1996 and Hale-Bopp in 1997, which gripped attention worldwide because, for many, they were the first comets ever seen. He places these two recent comets in the context of their predecessors from past ages, among them the famous Comet Halley.


Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens
This dramatization of Galileo Galilei's life includes his scientific achievements and his defense of his controversial theory that the earth revolves around the sun. It also includes how letters from his illegitimate daughter, Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun, have shed new light on Galileo's discoveries and his trial for heresy.

The Universe: The Complete Season One
This documentary TV series made for the History Channel examines the sun, Mars, Earth, Jupiter, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, other galaxies, stars, the outer planets, the search for extraterrestrials, and more.

400 Years of the Telescope: A Journey of Science, Technology and Thought
The film features interviews with leading astrophysicists and cosmologists who explain concepts ranging from Galileo's act of revealing the cosmos with a simple telescope to the latest discoveries in space, including startling new ideas about life on other planets and dark energy.

Recommended Websites

NASA International Year of Astronomy 2009
This site is NASA’s official website celebrating the International Year of Astronomy.

Amazing Space
The Space Telescope Science Institute’s “Amazing Space” website uses the Hubble Space Telescope’s discoveries to inspire and educate about the wonders of our universe.

Everything you need to know about the Hubble Space Telescope in a colorful, comprehensive and interactive website for all ages. Don’t miss the Gallery with its breathtaking images.

International Year of Astronomy Discovery Guides
This site includes a discovery guide for every month featuring a theme for the month, a hands-on activity to explore the theme, and a featured celestial object and how to find it in the sky.

The MicroObservatory, created by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, is a network of robotic telescopes that users can control over the Internet to take their own images of celestial objects, free of charge. The site contains a special section for the International Year of Astronomy that allows users to take images of the objects Galileo saw, and describes what Galileo observed and what we know now.

“Visions of the Universe: Four Centuries of Discovery” is presented by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the American Library Association, Chicago, Illinois, through funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Some book descriptions provided by BookLetters.