Skip to main content

Astronomy Adventures and Vacations - Timothy Treadwell ****

If you’re into healthy outdoor pursuits (and I mean the Great Outdoors, not your backyard), you won’t have any trouble thinking of exciting ‘adventures and vacations’ to indulge in. But what if you’re a naturally sedentary science geek (like this reviewer)? If you’ve ever struggled for a reason to get yourself out of the house, this book could be just what you need.

The book’s title immediately conjures up a number of standard images – a luxury cruise to the southern hemisphere taking in the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds, an excursion to the far north to view the Aurora Borealis, or that ‘once in a lifetime’ trip to some obscure part of the globe to witness a total solar eclipse. All those things are covered, of course, but so are a lot of less obvious – and significantly cheaper and easier – activities.

The book lists numerous space-related tourist attractions, from museums and NASA visitor centres to working observatories that are open to the public. There are also more historical sites than you might expect, ranging from Herschel’s house and Galileo’s tomb all the way back to Stonehenge and Meteor Crater in Arizona. Then there are the various regular trade shows and events you can go to – not just to ogle a load of high-end telescopes you can’t afford, but perhaps to get your photograph taken with an astronaut, or purchase a piece of meteorite.

The book doesn’t ignore genuine adventures, either – although sadly the best ones are going to cost you a four-to-five figure sum. You can book a trip to the ‘edge of space’ in a Soviet-era fighter plane, or a zero-gravity taster on board a Vomit Comet. Slightly cheaper is a personalised tour of the cosmonaut training centre in Star City, near Moscow – you can do that one, with all the frills (like trying on a real spacesuit), for less than a thousand euros.

When I first read the blurb for this book, I assumed it was written by a US-based author, so I was worried it might be too US-centric for my tastes. As it turns out, however, Timothy Treadwell is a fellow Brit, and he’s done a commendable job of catering to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The result is probably 50/50 between the United States and the rest of the world – which I suspect (at the risk of stereotyping) is a more equitable balance than a US author would have managed. My home county of Somerset, for example, gets three mentions in the book – which is three more than I was expecting.

By its nature, this is more a work of reference than a book that’s meant to be read through from cover to cover (a point the author makes in his preface). That brings me on to my one real criticism of it. The chapters are arranged thematically, but the material within each chapter tends to be haphazard. Three consecutive paragraphs may relate to three completely different geographic locations. I would have welcomed a bit of help here – for example by giving the paragraphs inline headings, or by highlighting the place-names in bold type. Similarly, a geographical gazetteer (or even maps) at the end of the book would have been a useful addition.

Those minor quibbles aside, this is an impressively well-researched book on a fascinating and unique subject (and I almost forgot to mention – it’s lavishly illustrated, with colour photographs on virtually every page). Definitely recommended for anyone who’s interested in astronomy and looking for an excuse to get out and about!

Paperback:  

Kindle 
Review by Andrew May

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Jim Baggott - Four Way Interview

Jim Baggott is a freelance science writer. He trained as a scientist, completing a doctorate in physical chemistry at Oxford in the early 80s, before embarking on post-doctoral research studies at Oxford and at Stanford University in California. He gave up a tenured lectureship at the University of Reading after five years in order to gain experience in the commercial world. He worked for Shell International Petroleum for 11 years before leaving to establish his own business consultancy and training practice. He writes about science, science history and philosophy in what spare time he can find. His books include Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb (2009), Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ (2012), Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields (2017), and, most recently, Quantum Space: Loop Quantum Gravity and the Search for the Structure of Space, Time, and the Universe (2018). For more info see: www…

Quantum Space: Jim Baggott *****

There's no doubt that Jim Baggott is one of the best popular science writers currently active. He specialises in taking really difficult topics and giving a more in-depth look at them than most of his peers. The majority of the time he achieves with a fluid writing style that remains easily readable, though inevitably there are some aspects that are difficult for the readers to get their heads around - and this is certainly true of his latest title Quantum Space, which takes on loop quantum gravity.

As Baggott points out, you could easily think that string theory was the only game in town when it comes to the ultimate challenge in physics, finding a way to unify the currently incompatible general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Between them, these two behemoths of twentieth century physics underlie the vast bulk of physics very well - but they simply can't be put together. String theory (and its big brother M-theory, which as Baggott points out, is not actually a the…