Astrophysicist Katherine Freese to discuss THE COSMIC COCKTAIL at Town Hall Seattle tomorrow night, May 20, at 7:30 PM

If you are in the Seattle area tomorrow night, May 20, please come out to see University of Michigan astrophysicist Katherine Freese discuss her new book THE COSMIC COCKTAIL: Three Parts Dark Matter at Town Hall Seattle at 7:30 PM.

Astrophysicist Katherine Freese to discuss her new book THE COSMIC COCKTAIL: Three Parts Dark Matter on Monday, May 12, at Hayden Planetarium/American Museum of Natural History

If you are in the New York City area on Monday, May 12, please come out to see University of Michigan astrophysicist Katherine Freese discuss her new book THE COSMIC COCKTAIL: Three Parts Dark Matter at the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City starting at 7:30 PM. Hope to see you there!

Princeton University Press Europe at the Oxford Literary Festival 2014


By Hannah Dummett, Princeton University Press Europe intern

McCall SmithLast Sunday marked the end of the 2014 Oxford Literary Festival: “bigger, better and more ambitious than ever”. A whirlwind nine days of authors, talks, photographers, book signings and  lunches, and amongst all of it the Princeton authors met with full auditoriums and avid audiences, often followed by a glass of Prosecco in the green room.

The Soul of the World author Roger Scruton had the audience in stitches of laughter (perhaps not what you’d expect from a talk by a philosopher) as he shed light on his idea of the sacred, at the same time as shamelessly, and hilariously, plugging his new books. Meanwhile, David Edmonds entered a lively discussion with Nigel Warburton. The audience were eager to join in and soon the topic of moral dilemma had led to a debate on the fate of flight MH370.

As one of the festival’s better-known authors, Alexander McCall Smith was hounded by the ‘literary paparazzi’, and one of our publicists was even coerced into being used as a photographer’s assistant (read: prop-holder). Over at Christ Church, Averil Cameron took us back more than 2500 years in time and explained why Byzantium is key to our understanding of other historical periods. Michael Scott argued his own case for the Greek city of Delphi – and gave us all a reason to visit this summer.

His book may be over 800 pages long, but Robert Bartlett kept things succinct and made sure that his audience were keen to discover what the other 700 pages hold in store. He was even awarded a printed apology from the Oxford Mail’s Jeremy Smith after he commented on Bartlett’s “modest attire” while introducing the talk. Husband and wife astronomer/authors Jacqueline and Simon Mitton, both struck down with a virus picked up on a recent cruise, put on a brave face despite their illness and managed to plunge their audience into the depths of the history of the universe, visiting far-away galaxies via new-born stars and black holes.

The increasingly relevant topic of narcissism and self-love was examined by Simon Blackburn, discussing his new book Mirror, Mirror, and political journalist Edmund Fawcett kept the audience listening with an absorbing talk on differing forms of liberalism. To top it off, the “charming, charismatic” Ian Goldin gave an excellent lecture on how the recent financial crash could have an extreme effect on a wide range of factors in our everyday lives. We’ve been out of the office again this week, this time for London Book Fair – the fun is non-stop this month!


5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. Blast off! Announcing University Presses in Space

A collaborative web site, University Presses in Space, launched this week in an effort to bring together space exploration and astronomy/astrophysics titles from across the university press universe. “University presses have explored the known universe and beyond, producing a galaxy of intriguing and informative books about outer space and space exploration,” notes the introductory page.

The web site is created with readers in mind. As Ellen W. Faran, director of The MIT Press, wrote in her announcement of the launch, “The hypothesis here is that space readers don’t stop at one book and that they appreciate quality.”

We are delighted to see Princeton University Press titles like The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter by Katherine Freese and Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe by Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton included in the mix.

Maybe we can get an endorsement from others who have boldly gone into space before us?

Princeton authors speaking at Oxford Literary Festival 2014

We are delighted that the following Princeton authors will be speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival in Oxford, UK, in the last week of March. Details of all events can be found at the links below:images5L8V7T97

Jacqueline and Simon Mitton, husband and wife popular astronomy writers and authors of From Dust to Life: The Origin and Evolution of Our Solar System and Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe respectively, will be speaking  on Monday 24 March at 4:00pm

David Edmonds, author of Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us  about Right and Wrong will be speaking on Monday 24 March at 6:00pm

Robert Bartlett, author of Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation will be speaking on Tuesday 25 March at 2:00pm

Michael Scott, author of Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World will be speaking on Wednesday 26 March at 10:00am

Simon Blackburn, author of Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love will be speaking on Wednesday 26 March at 4:00pm

Roger Scruton author of the forthcoming The Soul of the World will be speaking Thursday 27 March 12:00pm

Alexander McCall Smith, author of What W. H. Auden Can Do for You will be speaking about how this poet has enriched his life and can enrich yours too on Friday 28 March at 12:00pm

Averil Cameron, author of Byzantine Matters will be speaking on Friday 28 March at 2:00pm

Edmund Fawcett, author of Liberalism: The Life of an Idea will be speaking on Saturday 29 March at 10:00am

In addition, Ian Goldin will be giving the inaugural “Princeton Lecture” at The Oxford Literary Festival, on the themes within his forthcoming book, The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It on Thursday 27 March at 6:00pm


Glen Van Brummelen is Shortlisted for 2013 BSHM Nuemann Book Prize

Glen Van Brummelen – Heavenly Mathematics: The Forgotten Art of Spherical Trigonometry
Shortlisted for the 2013 BSHM Neumann Book Prize, British Society for the History of Mathematics

The British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM) has announced the winner of the 2013 Neumann Prize. This prize, named after Oxford mathematician and past BSHM President Dr. Peter Neumann, OBE, is awarded every two years for the best mathematics book containing historical material and aimed at a non-specialist readership.

To read more about the BSHM and this award, click here.

Heavenly MathematicsSpherical trigonometry was at the heart of astronomy and ocean-going navigation for two millennia. The discipline was a mainstay of mathematics education for centuries, and it was a standard subject in high schools until the 1950s. Today, however, it is rarely taught. Heavenly Mathematics traces the rich history of this forgotten art, revealing how the cultures of classical Greece, medieval Islam, and the modern West used spherical trigonometry to chart the heavens and the Earth. Glen Van Brummelen explores this exquisite branch of mathematics and its role in ancient astronomy, geography, and cartography; Islamic religious rituals; celestial navigation; polyhedra; stereographic projection; and more. He conveys the sheer beauty of spherical trigonometry, providing readers with a new appreciation for its elegant proofs and often surprising conclusions.

Heavenly Mathematics is illustrated throughout with stunning historical images and informative drawings and diagrams that have been used to teach the subject in the past. This unique compendium also features easy-to-use appendixes as well as exercises at the end of each chapter that originally appeared in textbooks from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries.

Glen Van Brummelen is coordinator of mathematics and the physical sciences at Quest University Canada and president of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics. His books include The Mathematics of the Heavens and the Earth: The Early History of Trigonometry (Princeton) and Mathematics and the Historian’s Craft.

Dreams of Other Worlds

In the sprint to identify planets beyond our Solar System, scientists scan the skies for habitable worlds similar to Earth with the goal of finding life beyond ours.  With each new confirmation of smaller and more Earth-sized planets, and a possible 400 billion exoplanets in the Milky Way alone, the odds are high that habitable worlds abound. Several of the missions discussed in Dreams of Other Worlds by Chris Impey and Holly Henry have been instrumental in this research, including the beloved Hubble Space Telescope.

Impey_Dreams_F13The book details the methods scientists use to detecting extrasolar planets, the wild variety of planets found so far, and the teams and researchers making the discoveries, including, the online survey of Kepler data that citizen scientists are currently scouring for evidence of these worlds. The chapter on the Viking mission comments on how, in searching for life on Mars, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis determined that volatile gases such as oxygen or ozone are replenished by living organisms in Earth’s biosphere and will be important biomarkers of life on exoplanets.  The chapter on the Spitzer mission details the ways complex organisms on Earth developed eyes designed to best use the light of our own star, the Sun, as well as how life forms elsewhere might be adjusted to existence on a planet orbiting a red dwarf star, the most common star type in the Milky Way. While the Hipparcos mission inadvertently identified exoplanets orbiting other stars, its successor mission, Gaia, is poised to detect thousands more.

Beyond artist depictions of exoplanets in orbit of distant stars, the book considers the artwork of Chesley Bonestell whose imaginative paintings of planetary landscapes inspired his and future generations to consider the variable landscapes within our Solar System and beyond.  And, of course, the gold-plated phonograph records attached to the ongoing Voyager spacecraft were intended for civilizations potentially inhabiting an exoplanet in our galactic neighborhood.

The book’s conclusion looks to the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope that will turn its infrared seeking lenses to the search of far-flung worlds.  What we find, the authors remind us, is bound to completely rewrite our understanding of life and where it can exist, as well as our place in the unimaginably vast universe that surrounds us.


Read a sample chapter from Dreams of Other Worlds:

Saturday Night Live is lost in space


All evidence to the contrary (ahem, Gravity and just about every other space movie out there), most space missions are now unmanned, but someone does still have to answer the call whether it’s from a stranded George Clooney or a damaged rover. Read Dreams of Other Worlds by Chris Impey and Holly Henry to get a better sense of how NASA and others are expanding the way we understand the universe and our role in it via unmanned space explorations like Cassini, WMAP, and Voyager.



“Dreams of Other Worlds”: WMAP #WSW2013

Houston, we have lift off!

All week long for World Space Week, we have been posting exclusive excerpts from Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s new book, Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration. Each day has included an excerpt from a different chapter(s) about a different unmanned spacecraft, along with a picture of the craft that doubles as an iPhone background!

Today is the last official day of World Space Week, so we’ll be finishing it out with an excerpt from Chapter 12, which talks about the curvature of space and how WMAP has helped us to interpret it.

We hope we took one small step for blogging about space, and one giant leap into a space adventure!

WMAPWMAP has not only put us “in tune” with the cosmos; it has refined and sharpened our view of the extraordinary event that created all matter and energy 13.8 billion years ago.
WMAP has taken quantities that were poorly known or only hinted at and turned them into well-measured cosmological parameters. The temperature is measured to a precision of a thousandth of a degree. Since space can be curved according to general relativity, the universe can act as a gigantic lens. To do this vast optics experiment we look at the microwaves that have been traveling across space for billions of years. The fundamental harmonic of the microwave radiation sets the size of the “spot.” Radiation from that typical spot size travels through space and the angular size can be magnified or de-magnified depending on whether space has positive or negative curvature, which is like the universe acting as either a convex or a concave lens. WMAP has shown that the spot size doesn’t change so the universe is behaving like a smooth sheet of glass. The inference is that space is not curved; the universe is flat to a precision of 1 percent. This is just as expected from inflation.

Think you know all about these missions? Take our quiz and find out!
Proud of your score? Tweet it! #WSW2013

World Space Week Round-Up #WSW2013

All this week for World Space Week, we’ve been posting excerpts from Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s new book, Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration, and while that’s an amazing book, we decided that in order to give World Space Week all of the cosmic attention it deserves, we would put together an interstellar round-up to fire up your engines and blast you to infinity… and beyond!

Beyond UFOs
Beyond UFOs: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life and Its Astonishing Implications for Our Future

By: Jeffrey Bennett

This book describes the startling discoveries being made in the very real science of astrobiology, an intriguing new field that blends astronomy, biology, and geology to explore the possibility of life on other planets. This book goes beyond UFOs to discuss some of the tantalizing questions astrobiologists grapple with every day: What is life and how does it begin? What makes a planet or moon habitable? Is there life on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system? How can life be recognized on distant worlds? Is it likely to be microbial, more biologically complex–or even intelligent? What would such a discovery mean for life here on Earth?

Titan Unveiled
Titan Unveiled: Saturn’s Mysterious Moon Explored

By: Ralph Lorenz and Jacqueline Mitton

In the early 1980s, when the two Voyager spacecraft skimmed past Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, they transmitted back enticing images of a mysterious world concealed in a seemingly impenetrable orange haze. Titan Unveiled is one of the first general interest books to reveal the startling new discoveries that have been made since the arrival of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan.

From Dust To Life
From Dust to Life: The Origin and Evolution of Our Solar System

By: John Chambers & Jacqueline Mitton

The birth and evolution of our solar system is a tantalizing mystery that may one day provide answers to the question of human origins. This book tells the remarkable story of how the celestial objects that make up the solar system arose from common beginnings billions of years ago, and how scientists and philosophers have sought to unravel this mystery down through the centuries, piecing together the clues that enabled them to deduce the solar system’s layout, its age, and the most likely way it formed.

Fly Me to the Moon
Fly Me to the Moon: An Insider’s Guide to the New Science of Space Travel

By: Edward Belbruno
With a foreword by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Belbruno devised one of the most exciting concepts now being used in space flight, that of swinging through the cosmos on the subtle fluctuations of the planets’ gravitational pulls. His idea was met with skepticism until 1991, when he used it to get a stray Japanese satellite back on course to the Moon. The successful rescue represented the first application of chaos to space travel and ushered in an emerging new field. Part memoir, part scientific adventure story, Fly Me to the Moon gives a gripping insider’s account of that mission and of Belbruno’s personal struggles with the science establishment.

The Milky Way
The Milky Way: An Insider’s Guide

By: William H. Waller

This book offers an intimate guide to the Milky Way, taking readers on a grand tour of our home Galaxy’s structure, genesis, and evolution, based on the latest astronomical findings. In engaging language, it tells how the Milky Way congealed from blobs of gas and dark matter into a spinning starry abode brimming with diverse planetary systems–some of which may be hosting myriad life forms and perhaps even other technologically communicative species. It vividly describes the Milky Way as it appears in the night sky, acquainting readers with its key components and telling the history of our changing galactic perceptions.

The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It

By: Robert Zimmerman
With a new afterword by the author

The Hubble Space Telescope has produced the most stunning images of the cosmos humanity has ever seen. It has transformed our understanding of the universe around us, revealing new information about its age and evolution, the life cycle of stars, and the very existence of black holes, among other startling discoveries. But it took an amazing amount of work and perseverance to get the first space telescope up and running. The Universe in a Mirror tells the story of this telescope and the visionaries responsible for its extraordinary accomplishments.

Think you know all about missions in space? Take our quiz and find out!
Proud of your score? Tweet it! #WSW2013

“Dreams of Other Worlds”: Chandra and HST #WSW2013

Houston, we have lift off!

All week long for World Space Week, we will be posting exclusive excerpts from Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s new book, Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration. Each day will include an excerpt from a different chapter(s) about a different unmanned spacecraft, along with a picture of the craft that doubles as an iPhone background!

Today we have two excerpts. The first is from Chapter 10, and it describes some of the leaps and bounds we have been able to make in black hole exploration thanks to Chandra. The second excerpt is from Chapter 11, which talks about what is probably the most famous spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope.

Tomorrow will bring another chapter and another adventure, so stay tuned!

chandra99-13Chandra has the sensitivity to detect stellar black holes hundreds of light-years away. Only about twenty binary systems have well-enough measured masses to be sure the dark companion is a black hole, but X-ray observations can be used to identify black holes with fairly high reliability. The examples studied with X-ray telescopes are the brightest representatives of a population of about 100 million black holes in the Milky Way.
X-ray observations have also pushed the limit of our understanding of black holes. In 2007, a research team used Chandra to discover a black hole in M33, a nearby spiral galaxy. The black hole was sixteen times the mass of the Sun, making it the most massive stellar black hole known.32 Moreover, it was in a binary orbit with a huge star seventy times the Sun’s mass. The formation mechanism of the black hole that placed it in such a tight embrace with its companion is unknown. This is the first black hole in a binary system that shows eclipses, which provides unusually accurate measurements of mass and other properties. The massive companion will also die as a black hole, so future astronomers will be able to gaze on a binary black hole where energy is lost as gravitational radiation and the two black holes dance a death spiral as they coalesce into a single beast.
hubble89-13Above all scientific projects, the Hubble Space Telescope encapsulates and recapitulates the human yearning to explore distant worlds, and understand our origins and place in the universe. Its light grasp is 10 billion times better than Galileo’s best spyglass, and many innovations were needed for it to be realized: complex yet reliable instruments, the ability for astronauts to service the telescope, and the infrastructure to support the projects of thousands of scientists from around the world. The facility and its supporters experienced failure and heartache as well as eventual success and vindication.
Hubble’s legacy has touched every area of astronomy, from the Solar System to the most distant galaxies. In the public eye, it’s so well known that many people think it’s the only world-class astronomy facility. In fact, it operates in a highly competitive landscape with other space facilities and much larger telescopes on the ground. Although it doesn’t own any field of astronomy, it has made major contributions to all of them. It has contributed to Solar System astronomy and the characterization of exoplanets, it has viewed star birth and death in unprecedented detail, it has paid homage to its namesake with spectacular images of galaxies near and far, and it has cemented important quantities in cosmology, including the size, age, and expansion rate of the universe.

Think you know all about these missions? Take our quiz and find out!
Proud of your score? Tweet it! #WSW2013

“Dreams of Other Worlds”: Hipparcos and Spitzer #WSW2013

Houston, we have lift off!

All week long for World Space Week, we will be posting exclusive excerpts from Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s new book, Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration. Each day will include an excerpt from a different chapter(s) about a different unmanned spacecraft, along with a picture of the craft that doubles as an iPhone background!

Today we have two excerpts. The first is from Chapter 8, which talks about the first star charts, which were created by the Greek astronomer, Hipparchus (for whom the Hipparcos was named). The second excerpt is from Chapter 9, explaining some of the adversities Spitzer had to face before it was able to go into space.

Tomorrow will bring another chapter and another adventure, so stay tuned!

HipparcosFor thousands of years, all we’ve known of Hipparchus’s star guide were descriptions by Ptolemy. But astronomer Bradley Schaefer asserts that, indeed, the Farnese Atlas, a statue of the Greek figure Atlas kneeling while holding on his shoulders a globe of constellations, represents the stars and constellations known to the ancient Greeks. He contends that the statue “is the oldest surviving depiction of the set of the original Western constellations, and as such can be a valuable resource for studying their early development.”18 Schaefer realized after a detailed study of the globe that the constellations depicted match the night sky in the era and from the location where Hipparchus lived in 129 BC. As evidence in favor of this possibility, Schaefer writes: “First, the constellation symbols and relations are identical with those of Hipparchus and are greatly different from all other known ancient sources. Second, the date of the original observations is 125 ± 55 BC, a range that includes the date of Hipparchus’s star catalogue (c. 129 BC) but excludes the dates of other known plausible sources.” Schaefer concludes that “the ultimate source of the position information [of the constellations on the globe] used by the original Greek sculptor was Hipparchus’s data.”

SpitzerSpitzer, from its earliest inception, was especially designed for infrared astronomy and is sensitive enough to detect infrared signatures of stars and galaxies billions of light-years away. The space telescope has been instrumental in unveiling small, dim objects like dwarf stars and exoplanets and can even determine the temperature of their slender atmospheres. Originally proposed in the late 1970s as NASA’s Space Infrared Telescope Facility, the Spitzer Space Telescope suffered from uncertainty, a delay after the loss of the space shuttle Challenger, near-cancellation, congressional limbo, budget cuts, and “descoping.” Nevertheless, in 2003 the telescope was finally launched, after being renamed subsequent to a public opinion poll conducted by NASA. The last of NASA’s four Great Observatories, the $800 million telescope was named after Lyman Spitzer, an early advocate of the importance of orbital telescopes.13 After launch, the spacecraft took about 40 days to cool to its operating temperature of 5 Kelvin. Once cooled, it took just an ounce of liquid helium per day to maintain its detectors at their operating temperature. A solar panel facing the Sun serves to gather power and protect the telescope from radiation.

Think you know all about these missions? Take our quiz and find out!
Proud of your score? Tweet it! #WSW2013