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25 Years of Hubble Books

Hubble 2

With no disrespect to human photographers, the Hubble Telescope has given us some of the most remarkable photographs of the past 25 years. Thanks to the Hubble, we glimpsed wonders that match or exceed even our wildest imaginings. Just looking at the images is pleasure enough; but knowing what they mean and how they help us comprehend the universe requires that we do more than look. This is why SB&F is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Hubble with this brief “timeline” of accessible books (arranged chronologically) that took readers beyond the beauty and awe of the images to share with them the knowledge and significance of what the lovely photographs revealed. Happy birthday Hubble and thank you for being one of the best book illustrators of all time!

Hubble Vision: Astronomy with the Hubble Space Telescope, by Carolyn Collins Petersen. (Illus.) New York, NY: Cambridge, 1995.

Few scientific accomplishments of our lifetime equal the stunning achievements of the Hubble Space Telescope. From its conception in the 1960s to its launch in 1990, the discovery of a flawed mirror, and its subsequent repair in 1993, the story of the Hubble telescope has been one of anticipation, despair, hope, and triumph. All of these emotions are encountered in this wonderful book. We are led through the design of the telescope, an explanation of each of its instruments, and personal memoirs of the frustrations and successes of the Hubble team. The final two-thirds of the book give a sampling of some of the remarkable discoveries made by this spacecraft, both before and after the repair mission. Without dwelling on the problems the mission has had, the book presents a clear explanation of those problems. The frontiers of astronomy are not the easiest subject to write about for a general audience, and sometimes the terminology used in this book may be a little too advanced for the nonscientist. However, the authors do an excellent job of describing the wonders of the universe, as revealed by the Hubble telescope. The book is full of beautiful color pictures, many taken by the telescope itself, with clear explanations accompanying each picture. I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in astronomy or just curious to know the story behind the headlines of this remarkable spacecraft and the people who built and still control it.—Robert N. McCullough, Ferris State University, Big Rapids, MI

Gems of Hubble: Superb Images from the Hubble Space Telescope, by Jacqueline Mitton. (Illus.) New York, NY: Cambridge, 1996.

The Hubble Space Telescope, the finest optical telescope ever built, was almost a complete disaster, but nearly four years after its launch in April 1990, corrective optics were successfully installed. The resulting spectacular improvement in the quality of its images may be clearly seen by comparing page 8 (before) with page 10 (after) of this fine volume. The book showcases (with appropriate scientific comment) some 60 of the telescope's finest pictures. In December 1995, the telescope spent 10 days concentrating on a small area of the sky in Ursa Major in four color regions of the spectrum, taking a total of 342 separate exposures, which were then combined electronically into one picture. This is the deepest look at the faintest galaxies ever seen, some four billion times fainter than can be seen by the naked eye. It is a look that is closer to the edge of the observable universe and farther back in time than has ever been seen in any other astronomical picture. Other remarkable photographs are of the Cat's Eye Planetary Nebula (p. 64), the Eagle Nebula (p. 367), and Abell 2218 (a "cosmic zoom" lens, p. 110). Truly, this is a star-studded book of extraordinary interest. —John B. Irwin, Tucson, AZ

Chasing Hubble's Shadows: The Search for Galaxies at the Edge of Time, by Jeff Kanipe. (Illus.) New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005.

With astronomy's increasing ability to probe deeper into space, scientists are able to see further back in time, edging ever closer to the time of the Big Bang, or the origin of the universe. The last couple of decades of astrophysical research have provided a rich trove of knowledge about the early universe and galaxy formation. But these data can easily overwhelm the nonscientist. Fortunately, in Chasing Hubble's Shadows: The Search for Galaxies at the Edge of Time, science writer Jeff Kanipe offers an excellent guide for the perplexed, but interested, student or general reader. His book has benefited greatly from firsthand accounts by many leading astronomers and astrophysicists. These interviews strongly convey the excitement of cutting-edge research and illustrate the scientific method at work. Importantly, the book underscores the fact that understanding the universe is a work in progress, with many challenges facing scientists. The book also represents a useful taking stock of the intellectual leaps cosmology has taken over the past two decades and as the field approaches a transition period in which the Hubble Space Telescope, which has enriched astrophysical studies immensely, is nearing  the end of its life and the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope will hopefully receive the support needed for launch in the coming years. The only noteworthy flaw in the volume is the absence of an index.—Charles D. Ferguson, II, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, DC

Death Stars, Weird Galaxies, and a Quasar-Spangled Universe: The Discoveries of the Very Large Array Telescope. by Karen Taschek (Illus.) Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

This very well-written and illustrated book describes how the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope has enriched our understanding of solar, planetary, stellar, and galactic astronomy and throws in some cosmology for good measure. The author also provides brief overviews of the electromagnetic spectrum, radio astronomy, and other famous telescopes, including Palomar’s Hale telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Particularly impressive are her descriptions of how the VLA carries out joint observations with other instruments; the descriptions give the reader a good idea of how science really works. Just enough background material in physics and astronomy is provided to allow the reader to appreciate the accomplishments of the VLA. The science is impressively accurate for a book at this (or, indeed, any) level. The occasional slipups (e.g., the nature of the HST’s vision problem, the surface temperature of the Sun, and the rotation rates of pulsars) are both rare and inconsequential. The author has made a judicious choice of how much detail to include and what to leave out. The color illustrations are both interesting and appropriate, and many of them were new to me. The book ends with plans for a new and improved Expanded VLA. The glossary and index are both useful. From the somewhat gaudy title, I didn’t know what to expect. What a pleasant surprise the book was! I hope that Karen Taschek will write more science books for young adults and that the University of New Mexico Press will continue to publish them.—Bradley W. Carroll, Weber State University, Ogden, UT

Hubble: Imaging Space and Time,  by David DeVorkin  (Illus.) Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2008.

In May, astronaut Mike Massimino removed 111 small screws from the side of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) during its fourth, and final, servicing mission. This coffee-table book tells the story of that remarkable instrument, from Lyman Spitzer’s 1946 report “Astronomical Advantages of an Extra-Terrestrial Observatory,” through the HST’s launch in 1990, on to early myopic trials and later near abandonment of the instrument, and, finally, up to the preparations for the fourth repair mission. The six short chapters focus primarily on the instrument and not its science, showing how time is allocated for observations, how observations are made and analyzed, how images are processed, and how the HST has been continually upgraded. But first and foremost, this is a collection of remarkable pictures. Most of the photos were taken by the HST and processed by NASA’s Hubble Heritage Project, which is committed to repaying the public’s continued support for HST’s scientific mission with these exquisitely beautiful images. As expected for a National Geographic book, the quality of the photos is outstanding, with deep blacks and rich colors on large (11" ×12") pages. I was stunned by the fine, colorful details of the Hubble Deep Field, despite many previous viewings of this image on my computer screen. The distance to the object in each photo is given, along with a brief caption that describes the object’s astronomical significance. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, in his essay entitled “Nature”: “One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime.” —Bradley W. Carroll, Weber State University, Ogden, UT

Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle, by Michael Benson. (Illus.) New York, NY: Abrams, 2009.

This spectacularly illustrated book, in an unusual 12" × 12" format, provides a survey of the universe from, front to back, nebulae near us and then outward in space. Alternatively, as the somewhat breathless prose, meant, no doubt, to appeal to nonscientists, explains, one can read the book from back to front, moving from the earliest galaxies forward by over 13 billion years in time. In between full-page essays that often place the distances of the objects in the context of terrestrial events at the time that the light was emitted (some historic and some prehistoric and even geological), a dozen or so full-page, gorgeous color photos survey the sky or, in a series of images, zoom in on a cosmological object or event. Our solar system and almost all non-visible-light astronomy are omitted. The book describes astronomers’ understanding of the objects shown, but not the scientific methods used to gain that understanding. The images themselves come from a variety of professional and amateur telescopes around the world, with a few from the Hubble Space Telescope included. (The Hubble Ultra Deep Field shows the universe in an exceedingly young state, about 13 billion years ago.) Of course, it is humans, rather than telescopes, who provided the aesthetics of many of the images. The resulting book is a personal labor of love, an idiosyncratic view of the beauty of objects in the astronomical sky. The discussions are accurate, but are not the type that would normally be used in a class. As a beautiful book to have at home and to read portions of from time to time, Far Out is a good introduction to astronomy. —Jay M. Pasachoff, Hopkins Observatory, Williams College, Williamstown, MA

Hubble: A Journey Through Space and Time, by Edward J Weiler (Illus.) New York, NY: Abrams, 2010.

This is a great coffee-table book, with many fine photographs obtained from the Hubble telescope. For persons with an interest in history, the text provides a fascinating description of the developments leading up to the first images from the telescope. A description and appropriate pictures tell the story of the servicing missions that are needed to keep the Hubble telescope living up to, and exceeding, its promises. The book would serve best as a general reference book placed on a coffee table to attract the interest of people who will enjoy seeing the universe from above our atmosphere. The writing makes clear what is shown in the pictures. There is not enough text for the book to be useful as a textbook presenting facts, theories, or processes of science. The reader can enjoy the pictures without any previous exposure to astronomy, and the text is such that a person with a high school education should be able to understand it. In sum, Hubble has earned a place on my coffee table. —James Arbogast, consultant, Danville, OH

Hubble’s Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images, by Terence Dickinson. (Illus.)  New York, NY: Firefly Books, 2012.

I expected a typical Hubble Telescope picture book when I received for review Hubble's Universe, by Terence Dickinson. However, this book proved to be a very well-done exploration of the telescope, its uses, its history, its astonishing achievements, and its unique place in the science of astronomical observation. The spectacular pictures are certainly a major feature of the book but Dickinson takes care to compare the differences between the superior results from the Hubble with those of earth‑bound telescopes. A particularly impressive chapter explains six of Hubble's top discoveries, which would not have been possible with earth‑bound telescopes. Dickinson obviously has a deep love of astronomy as he explains in the introduction and that message comes out in his book. He includes a chapter on the Hubble repair mission in 2009 that lengthened the useful life of the telescope. He ends with a bibliography of websites, DVDs, and books for further reference. The science in it is excellent, as a layman's introduction to some otherwise difficult concepts. This book is highly recommended for both the casual reader and the serious lover of astronomy.‑‑John O. Christensen, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

Space Atlas: Mapping the Universe and Beyond, by James Trefil. (Illus.) Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2012.

An Atlas of such beauty is rare indeed. James Trefil, a scientist noted for his science writing, and a National Geographic team of artists and designers have made a gorgeous Atlas suitable for the state of our astronomical knowledge of this time at the beginning of the 21st-century. The book contains a wide variety of atlas-like features, including maps not only of obvious objects like the Moon but also of Jupiter's belts and zones; of surfaces of the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune; and of the nearest stars and the nearest galaxies (in a format familiar to those who recall older National Geographic atlases and wall charts). Discussions of objects beyond Pluto like Eris (and Pluto's current status), of exoplanets like Kepler 22b, of the accelerating expansion of the universe, and of string theory couldn't have been in atlases or textbooks not so long ago, but here they are, beautifully described and beautifully illustrated. Photos of astronomers so famous that first name only would suffice for the cognoscenti: Fred, Jocelyn, Vera (who is credited with consulting), Edwin. A few flaws remain: Eris is no longer thought to be bigger than Pluto (p. 175) and where Henrietta attended is no longer Radcliffe. The Sun is dismissed in 8 pages, without even a sunspot cycle or a detailed white-light photo of the photosphere or the corona. But when I guessed that too many craters and other surface objects were identified to be in the index, I was wrong, since there is indeed an index of all those place names. This atlas can be read and enjoyed, gazed at and admired, and used for reference. I heartily recommend it.—Jay M. Pasachoff, Hopkins Observatory, Williams College, Williamstown, MA

Expanding Universe: Photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, by Owen Edwards, Zoltan Levay, Charles F. Bolden, Jr., and John Mace Grunsfeld. Taschen, 2015.
We have not published a review for this one yet, but here is what the publisher has to say about it. “With investigations into everything from black holes to exoplanets, the Hubble Telescope has changed not only the face of astronomy, but also our very sense of being in the universe. On the 25th anniversary of its launch into low-earth orbit, TASCHEN celebrates its most breathtaking deep space images both as scientific feats and as photographic masterpieces. Ultra high-resolution and taken with almost no background light, these pictures have answered some of the most compelling questions of time and space, while also revealing new mysteries, like the strange “dark energy” that sees the universe expanding at an ever-accelerated rate. Now, the precision of the telescope is matched with the precision of TASCHEN reproduction standards, allowing the images to mesmerize in their iridescent colors and vast, fragile forms. The collection is accompanied by an essay from photography critic Owen Edwards and an interview with Zoltan Levay, who explains how the pictures are composed. Veteran Hubble astronauts Charles F. Bolden, Jr. and John Mace Grunsfeld also offer their insights on Hubble’s legacy and future space exploration.”—Maria Sosa, editor, SB&F

Editor’s Note: All annotations are from reviews published in Science Books & Films. Affiliations for the reviewers are those that were provided when the reviews were published.


Maria Sosa

Senior Project Director