The Space Atlas
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This month we feature the cover of Chris Powling's latest title, Where the Quaggy Bends (see Authorgraph). The book is published in July by HarperCollins (0 00 185417 8, £7.99; 0 00 674087 1, £3.50 pbk) and we are grateful to them for their help in using this illustration.
When I was little the skies were clear, any cloudless night would disclose the Milky Way, and Orion and The Plough were good friends. Nowadays the heavens are full of sodium-lit haze, the only significant Orion is the one my next door neighbour drives and the only Plough the one I drink at, the stars thrill me not at all and books about them even less. What a treat, then, to discover the means of possibly reigniting the once incandescent flame of astronomic interest - a flame which I observe burning as brightly as ever within many young people.
Most astronomy books start in the middle - with the sun, work outwards through the planets and end up with 'Man in Space', but this one starts off on the launching pad and gets us into orbit straight away. Only after a good look at the moon and its satellitic nature do we, in a series or brilliantly attractive double-spreads, begin to examine the succession of solar planets, and only then (page 42 out of 64) do we get a look at our local star, the sun.
Astronomy is full of seeming paradoxes that I have always found difficult - for instance, Venus has a longer day than it has a year and the poles of the sun spin faster than its middle. The authors are both skilled presenters (often in each other's company) of their subject and their relaxed approach to it dispels such forbidding mysteries and makes light years, black holes, red dwarfs and yellow subgiants easy to understand. Luciano Corbella has given us needle-sharp illustrations which the design team has balanced excellently with the text so that the net result is a lucidly and logically exciting book about our place in space - the next best thing to a clear sky and your own observatory. This is great book for the enthusiast, of which its presence in libraries may help generate more, and who knows my old cricket binoculars may soon be turning heavenward.