The stars in their courses

The stars in their courses
The Astronomy Book (Big Ideas Imply Explained series)

(DK / Penguin Random House, €20)

Michael Fewer


When our children were young, one of the highlights of visits to our country cottage was the night skies, particularly in autumn and winter, when we all used to wrap up well and lie out on foam mattresses, trying to identify the constellations and enjoying ‘shooting stars’.

Recently, when city friends came to visit with their teenaged children, the weather was good, and we seduced the youngsters away from their tablets by showing off our night sky. They were astonished at the brilliance and number of stars decorating the vault of the heavens, and said they had never seen ‘shooting stars’ before.


They were even more impressed when I pointed out Earth satellites passing over, and how common they are today.  They were full of questions, with a hunger for more information. I wish I had known then about The Astronomy Book: it would have been perfect for them and, indeed, for anyone from about 14 upwards, all those who are fascinated by the universe and want to know more about it.

The creation of many hands, it opens with the history of astronomy and how our understanding of the universe has progressed, and includes short biographies of pioneers such as Ptolomy, Galileo and Herschel, and even our own Lord Rosse and his great telescope at Birr, County Offaly, is dealt with.

Red giants, cosmic expansion and black holes are simply explained, spacecraft crammed with intricate scientific equipment that have ‘boldly gone where no man has gone’ are described, while terrestrial and satellite-mounted telescopes that allow us to peer far out into the galaxies are well covered.

Cutting through complex jargon, the basic text is peppered with panels of simple diagrams, succinct quotes, explanatory images, critical dates and bullet point information, all in plain English, which will appeal particularly to young, computer-savvy readers.

Michael Fewer writes on Ireland’s natural and man-made heritage.

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