Being the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first astronomical use of the telescope, 2009 is being celebrated as the International Year of Astronomy. As such, it's not surprising to see new books and articles on the subject. One book that has come to my attention is Galileo's New Universe by astronomers Stephen P. Maran and Laurence A. Marschall (Benbella Books, Dallas, 2009). At 174 pages and $14.95, it's an easy and inexpensive read which I highly recommend.
Having already read many accounts of Galileo's story, I was tempted to pass on the book, but I'm glad I didn't. While it contains much I already knew, there's plenty of new material to make it well worth my while. And beyond that, the literary device used by the authors is engaging.
After a brief but informative account of Galileo's story, they devote a chapter each to telescopes, the Moon, the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, comets, the Milky Way, and cosmology. With each, they present the 17th century view followed by the contemporary, dramatically illustrating the progress of the past 400 years.
For example, they describe the telescopes Galileo made and used for his Earth-shaking discoveries in the early 1600s, telescopes that were inferior even to today's inexpensive department store scopes. They then describe today's huge observatory telescopes, and the mammoth scopes currently under development -- instruments Galileo couldn't have imagined in his wildest dreams.
With each of the other topics, they relate what was known to Galileo and his contemporaries, and then contrast that with what we now know 400 years later. It is sobering to realize that even many of the school children with whom I work could teach the brilliant Galileo things about the solar system and the cosmos that would leave him dumbfounded.
In future columns, drawing from this book, we'll look at the Moon, Sun, and planets as they were understood then and now. In the meantime, just for fun, imagine traveling into the future and reading a comparable book that contrasts what we know today with what our descendants will know in 2409.
• Sky Calendar.
* Nov. 1 Sun., 2 a.m.: Set clocks back 1 hour to Standard Time.
* 1 & 2 Sun. & Mon. mornings: Mars passes through the Beehive star cluster high in the southeast; binoculars will help.
* 2 Mon.: The full Moon is called the Hunter's Moon, Frosty Moon, and Beaver Moon.
* 9 Mon. morning: The Moon is at 3rd quarter with Mars above it.
* 12 Thu. morning: Saturn is to the left of the crescent Moon low in the east at dawn.
* 14 Sat. morning: The star Spica is to the upper left of the crescent Moon very low in the east at dawn.
* 15 Sun. morning: The thin crescent Moon is to the right of Venus near the eastern horizon at dawn.
* 16 Mon.: The Moon is new.
* 17 Tue. midnight to dawn: The Leonid meteor shower peaks with no Moon interference and possibly enhanced rates.
• Naked-eye Planets. (The Sun, Moon, and planets rise in the east and set in the west due to Earth's west-to-east rotation on its axis.) Evening: Jupiter is the brilliant object in the south. Morning: "Morning star" Venus is near the eastern horizon at dawn with creamy-colored Saturn higher in the east and reddish Mars high overhead.
Stargazer appears every other week. Paul Derrick is an amateur astronomer who lives in Waco. Contact him at 918 N. 30th, Waco, 76707, (254) 753-6920 or email@example.com. See the Stargazer Web site at stargazerpaul.com.