The Glass Universe

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel

QB 34.5 .S63 2016

“In the late nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group consisted of the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women’s colleges – Vassar, Wellesley, Radcliffe, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates.

The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed over the ensuing decades – through the generous support of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, the widow of a pioneer in stellar photography – enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what the stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and even found a way to measure distances across space by starlight. Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish immigrant originally hired as a maid who went on to identify ten novae and more than three hundred variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use today; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne, who in 1956 became the first woman professor of astronomy at Harvard – and Harvard’s first female department chair.

Elegantly written and enriched by excerpts from letters, diaries, and memoirs, The Glass Universe is the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe.”
– publisher description

The Eerie Silence

The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence by Paul Davies

QB 54 .D383 2010

“Are we alone in the universe?

This is surely one of the biggest questions of human existence, yet it remains frustratingly unanswered.  In this provocative book, one of the world’s leading scientists explains why the search for intelligent life beyond Earth should be expanded, and how it can be done.

Fifty years ago, a young astronomer named Frank Drake first pointed a radio telescope at nearby stars in the hope of picking up a signal from an alien civilization.  Thus began one of the boldest scientific projects in history, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

After a half-century of scanning the skies, however, astronomers have little to report but an eerie silence – eerie because many scientists are convinced that the universe is teeming with life.  Could it be, wonders physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies, that we’ve been looking in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong way?

Davies has been closely involved with SETI for three decades, and chairs the SETI Post-Detection Taskgroup, charged with deciding what to do if we’re suddenly confronted with evidence of alien intelligence.  He believes the search so far has fallen into an anthropocentric trap – assuming that an alien species will look, think, and behave much like us.  In this mind-expanding book he refocuses the search, challenging existing ideas of what form an alien intelligence might take, how it might try to communicate with us, and how we should respond if it does.

The Eerie Silence provides a penetrating assessment of the evidence, past and present, and an exciting new road map for the future.” – publisher description

What If the Earth Had Two Moons?: And Nine Other Thought-Provoking Speculations on the Solar System

What If the Earth Had Two Moons?: And Nine Other Thought-Provoking Speculations on the Solar System by Neil F. Comins

QB 638 .C66 2010

“‘What if?’ questions stimulate people to think in new ways, to refresh old ideas, and to make new discoveries. In What If the Earth Had Two Moons?, Neil F. Comins leads us on a fascinating ten-world journey as we explore what our planet would be like under alternative astronomical conditions. In each case, the Earth would be different, often in surprising ways.

The title chapter, for example, gives us a second moon orbiting closer to Earth than the one we have now. The night sky is a lot brighter, but that won’t last forever. Eventually the moons collide, with one extra-massive moon emerging after a period during which Earth sports a Saturn-like ring.

This and nine other speculative essays provide us with insights into the Earth as it exists today, while shedding new light on the burgeoning search for life on planets orbiting other stars.” –publisher description.

Carl Sagan: A Biography

Carl Sagan: A Biography

QB 36 .S15 S63 2009

“This concise, lively biography examines Carl Sagan’s steady growth as a man, as a scientist, and as a communicator — a man who had both odd quirks and great charisma, who had an immensely eclectic knowledge base and a unique understanding of the central place of science in the human experience, all of which dovetailed smoothly with his phenomenal ability to communicate.” — book jacket.

Lives of the Planets

Lives of the planets : a natural history of the solar system by Richard Corfield

QB 501 .C6618 2007 

“Lives of the Planets is a sweeping tour of our solar system, from the sun to recently demoted Pluto, to the Kuiper Belt and beyond the edge of the interstellar void. From the Neolithic computer that is Stonehenge to Galileo’s telescope to the latest NASA Mars rovers, Richard Corfield deftly describes the colorful history of humanity’s unfolding discovery of our solar system’s secrets.” — book jacket

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