Skip to main content

Hubble: Window on the Universe – Giles Sparrow ****

The Hubble space telescope has provided a massive step forward in producing images of everything from planets to distant galaxies – and this is a massive picture book, detailing Hubble’s achievements and rather a lot more. We’re talking genuinely massive here: at 37cm x 30, this isn’t so much a coffee table book as a book you could make a coffee table out of.
In a way, the title of the book is too confining for what’s actually in it. A lot of the content is from or about the Hubble telescope, but there are also images from a range of other telescopes and probes. We begin with a brief introduction to the telescope itself, then set out on a voyage across the solar system (this is where we particularly get images from other probes, such as the Mars landers). This continues to expand, taking in stars, the stunning photographs of nebulae and galaxies we have come to associate with Hubble, and finally the universe as a whole. Along the way we see how the different missions to maintain the telescope have changed things, including the first big fix to the misshaped mirror that turned images from fuzzy to crystal clear.
It’s hard to fault the photos – they are superb, and of course having that much page space means some can be presented in a truly grand fashion. The double page spread of the Crab Nebula, for example, is stunning. The text is fine, if a little summary sometimes. However, given its size and weight, I don’t think many people could be bothered to try to read this book from cover to cover. It genuinely is a popular science coffee table book, to flick through and pause in wonder at a randomly selected page – but none the worse for that.
We have a lot of books come through the office – most of them don’t stay too long, but I’ve a feeling this is one we won’t be saying goodbye to. It’s going to stay.
(Note cover has been redesigned since the one shown)
Review by Jo Reed


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…