Friday, 15 February 2002

Nigel Henbest and Michael Marten: The New Astronomy (1983)

Edition: Cambridge University Press, 1983 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1067

After almost twenty years, the contents of this book cannot really be described as "new" astronomy any more. It is a lavishly illustrated description of the then current achievements and methods in observational astronomy, with an emphasis on the discoveries made by extending this field beyond the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Developments since 1983 include massive expansion in satellite observations with the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope, detection of extra-solar planets, work to find incontrovertible evidence of black holes, more sophisticated computer analysis of data, and so on. Most of these are building on the methods described in The New Astronomy rather than being revolutionary and new in themselves.

The illustrations are of primary importance in The New Astronomy; the text is designed to explain the pictures rather than the other way round. It is appropriate that Cambridge have taken the unusual step of giving Michael Marten, the picture editor, a co-author credit. The two aspects of the book are well integrated, but it is the sumptuous illustration which makes the book stand out. I'm going to look out for a more recent equivalent (or, indeed, a revised edition) - it's a book which should be in the library of anyone interested in modern astronomy.

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