Robert D. Gehrz

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 403

[In Astronomy, cowriters Franklyn M. Branley and Mark R. Chartrand, III and illustrator Helmut K. Wimmer] have taken a refreshing approach in their presentation of astronomy and astrophysics for the nonmathematically oriented undergraduate student. Traditionally, the beginning student is asked to suffer through a lengthy introduction that details the historical development of astronomy….

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Astronomy begins with the contents of the universe and the cosmological implications of recent important observations. The reader is thus able to approach the remainder of the text with a clear view of how the microscopic components, such as planets, stars, and galaxies, are related to the macroscopic structure of the universe….

The authors have included many topics often omitted from introductory texts, such as experiments on the frontiers of astrophysical research….

Chapter 19, "The Search for Life—Is Anybody There?" will be of particular interest to today's student, who belongs to a generation for which manned space travel and exploration may become commonplace. The section on extraterrestrial communication addresses a topic that attracts many students to introductory astronomy courses. The authors maintain credibility by describing recent scientific experiments in extraterrestrial communications, such as the searches for coherent radio signals and the inclusion of an identification plaque aboard Pioneer 10.

The book will also appeal to the beginning amateur astronomer, for whom Chapter 14 and the appendixes give a reasonable introduction to the locations of the constellations and brighter stars. A set of star charts would have been helpful. Also, the omission of southern hemisphere constellations is disappointing.

In general, the text is lucid and mathematical concepts are presented in a manner that should be easily understood by the student who lacks a strong technical background. In some instances, a more quantitative treatment would be helpful. For example, a formula for the resolving power of a telescope might emphasize the fact that this property depends strongly on the wavelength at which the instrument is used.

On the other hand, the sections on terrestrial and celestial coordinate systems are tactfully arranged. The authors keep the discussion concise and let the excellent conceptual diagrams speak for themselves. (p. 54)

Over all, Astronomy presents modern astrophysics in a very readable fashion, with the discussion structured to maintain the reader's interest. Amateurs and students alike should find this a valuable addition to the list of introductory texts. (p. 55)

Robert D. Gehrz, "Books and the Sky: 'Astronomy'," in Sky and Telescope (© 1976 Sky Publishing Corporation), Vol. 52, No. 1, July, 1976, pp. 54-5.

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