Space Atlas by James Trefil

National Geographic Space Atlas Space Atlas is a cool collection of images and information about the universe, focusing mostly on the objects in our solar system but also featuring galaxies, black holes, pulsars, and other space stuff. I loved its up-to-date nature, with a lot of maps and images that have only been gathered by probes in the last couple of years. The text also has a lot of introductory-level explanations of a lot of space-related material, from the theory of relativity to how we calculate distances to dark matter and all kinds of other things.

I’d heard a lot of this stuff before but it was nice to get a refresher and to see where a lot of the science has gone in even just the last few years. There’s a conception that we haven’t done much in space since landing on the moon over forty years ago, and while it’s true that human exploration hasn’t really progressed, our exploration and understanding of the universe has increased a whole lot, thanks both to probes we’ve sent to other planets and fancier telescopes we’ve built on earth and put in orbit. (For example, the book says black holes weren’t even confirmed to exist until the 80’s!)

I’m also fascinated by how much we still don’t know about the universe. It seems like each planet in our solar system has some unique quirk (rotating the wrong way, for example) that confounds scientific theories of how the whole system came to be. And I love the whole concepts of dark matter and dark energy – our gravity equation doesn’t seem to work within some galaxies, where things that don’t seem to have enough mass to stick together are sticking together anyway, or between galaxies, where things that should be sticking together are flying apart, so, hey, there must be a whole bunch of invisible mass and energy out there that’s 19 times greater than all the stuff we can actually observe! That’s actually not too far from theology. If you like being awed by the wondrous detail of the universe, this book is a good place to start.