Friday, September 4, 2020

Summer Reading 2020 The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers

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Levesque weaves together her personal experiences, anecdotes shared by colleagues, and details from the history of astronomy to capture a view of the field as a whole and where it is headed. From her own early excitement at viewing Halley's Comet with her family in the backyard to riding on the Stratospheric Observatory at 45,000 feet, she makes the life of a modern astronomer come to life.

I especially enjoyed how she toggles back and forth between her observation runs at various telescopes around the world, descriptions of her educational path to her current position, and a look at the development of astronomy throughout history. Just the advances from bare eyeball observations of the stars to the ability of interferometers to measure gravitational waves is astounding. And traveling thousands of miles to use telescopes on remote mountaintops in Chile or Hawaii certainly seems to explode the image of figures hunched over telescopes in the dark, never wandering far from home.

For those with an interest in the field of astronomy, this book offers details about how research into black holes, supernovae, and other stellar objects is carried out. There are technical details about the advance from small handheld telescopes to the construction of large radio astronomy facilities or the Hubble Space Telescope. And the hilarious stories of scientists startled by a raccoon landing on their lap looking for a snack or skunks wandering into observatories through an open door put a more human face on the daily lives of these researchers.

Highly recommended for anyone curious about STEM careers or outer space.

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