25th anniversary of the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope

Twenty-five years ago today, the shuttle mission STS-31 saw the space shuttle Discovery launch the Hubble Space telescope successfully into orbit. Since then, it has produced the most stunning images of the cosmos humanity has ever seen. (The beautiful image below is of the grand-design spiral galaxy Messier 74!) The Hubble 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.

The grand-design spiral galaxy Messier 74 as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The grand-design spiral galaxy Messier 74 as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

However, behind the beautiful images taken by the telescope, there is the complex story of how the plans for the telescope came to fruition. But it took an amazing amount of work and perseverance to get the first space telescope up and running.

PUP author Robert Zimmerman’s The Universe in a Mirror tells the story of this telescope and the visionaries responsible for its extraordinary accomplishments. He takes readers behind the scenes of one of the most ambitious scientific instruments ever sent into space. After World War II, astronomer Lyman Spitzer and a handful of scientists waged a fifty-year struggle to build the first space telescope capable of seeing beyond Earth’s atmospheric veil. Zimmerman shows how many of the telescope’s advocates sacrificed careers and family to get it launched, and how others devoted their lives to Hubble only to have their hopes and reputations shattered when its mirror was found to be flawed. This is the story of an idea that would not die–and of the dauntless human spirit. Illustrated with striking color images, The Universe in a Mirror describes the heated battles between scientists and bureaucrats, the perseverance of astronauts to repair and maintain the telescope, and much more. Hubble, and the men and women behind it, opened a rare window onto the universe, dazzling humanity with sights never before seen.

Read Chapter 1 of The Universe in a Mirror here.



"Hubble 01" by NASA

“Hubble 01″ by NASA

Katherine Freese, author of “The Cosmic Cocktail,” at the Royal Astronomical Society

Freese RAS talk

Katherine Freese speaking at the Royal Astronomical Society

Only 5 percent of all matter and energy in the cosmos (think plants, animals, planets, the air we breathe) is made up of ordinary atoms. The rest is known as dark matter—it cannot be seen with telescopes, and its precise identity remains unknown. The Cosmic Cocktail is the inside story of the epic quest to identify dark matter and learn what the universe is made of, told by one of today’s foremost pioneers in the study of dark matter, acclaimed theoretical physicist Katherine Freese. Neil deGrasse Tyson calls the book “a gripping first person account of her life as a cosmologist…Part memoir, part tutorial, part social commentary.” It’s the perfect detective story for science geeks.

Freese post-talk

Post-event drinks at the Royal Astronomical Society

This week, Katherine Freese is in the UK talking about her research and the book. On April 8, she gave a talk at the Royal Astronomical Society and then recorded The Forum on the BBC World Service, which was presented by science journalist Quentin Cooper and will be broadcast and available to listen to online later this month.

Freese and Quinton Cooper

Freese and Quentin Cooper

Don’t miss Freese’s upcoming speaking engagements: On April 15th, Freese and PUP author Jacqueline Mitton will be participating in Edinburgh International Science Festival and on April 16th Freese will be speaking at Blackwell’s in Oxford. Freese will be a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on April 17th. On May 26th, she will be speaking at Hay Festival, a philosophy and music festival in Hay-on-Wye, (one of the biggest literary festivals in the UK, which was described by Bill Clinton in 2001 as “The Woodstock of the mind”).

Freese recording The Forum at BBC

Freese recording at BBC Broadcasting House


“A Brief History” of Stephen Hawking’s work

As we near February, and Oscars month (our calendars are marked for Feb. 22!), PUP takes a look at The Theory of Everything. The best-picture nominee, which stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, depicts the love story and life story of Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde. The beginning of the film is set in Cambridge, where Hawking is a brilliant graduate student. For movie-goers looking for a deeper look at Hawking’s scholarly work, PUP brings you a “Brief History” of books by Stephen Hawking.

Liam Daniel / Focus Features Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.

Liam Daniel / Focus Features
Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.


A Brief History of Time

“A landmark volume in science writing by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking’s book explores such profound questions as: How did the universe begin—and what made its start possible? Does time always flow forward? Is the universe unending—or are there boundaries? Are there other dimensions in space? What will happen when it all ends?

Told in language we all can understand, A Brief History of Time plunges into the exotic realms of black holes and quarks, of antimatter and “arrows of time,” of the big bang and a bigger God—where the possibilities are wondrous and unexpected. With exciting images and profound imagination, Stephen Hawking brings us closer to the ultimate secrets at the very heart of creation.”


On the Shoulders of Giants

“In On the Shoulders of Giants, Stephen Hawking brings together the greatest works by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Einstein, showing how their pioneering discoveries changed the way we see the world.

From Copernicus’ revolutionary claim that the earth orbits the sun and Kepler’s development of the laws of planetary motion to Einstein’s interweaving of time and space, each scientist built on the theories of their predecessors to answer the questions that had long mystified humanity.

Hawking also provides fascinating glimpses into their lives and times – Galileo’s trial in the Papal inquisition, Newton’s bitter feuds with rivals and Einstein absent-mindedly jotting notes that would lead to his Theory of Relativity while pushing his baby son’s pram. Depicting the great challenges these men faced and the lasting contributions they made, Hawking explains how their works transformed the course of science – and gave us a better understanding of the universe and our place in it.”


The Nature of Space and Time

Princeton University Press

By Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose

“Einstein said that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. But was he right? Can the quantum theory of fields and Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the two most accurate and successful theories in all of physics, be united in a single quantum theory of gravity? Can quantum and cosmos ever be combined? On this issue, two of the world’s most famous physicists–Stephen Hawking (A Brief History of Time) and Roger Penrose (The Emperor’s New Mind and Shadows of the Mind)–disagree. Here they explain their positions in a work based on six lectures with a final debate, all originally presented at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge.

How could quantum gravity, a theory that could explain the earlier moments of the big bang and the physics of the enigmatic objects known as black holes, be constructed? Why does our patch of the universe look just as Einstein predicted, with no hint of quantum effects in sight? What strange quantum processes can cause black holes to evaporate, and what happens to all the information that they swallow? Why does time go forward, not backward? In this book, the two opponents touch on all these questions.”


The Universe in a Nutshell

“In this new book Hawking takes us to the cutting edge of theoretical physics, where truth is often stranger than fiction, to explain in laymen’s terms the principles that control our universe.

Like many in the community of theoretical physicists, Professor Hawking is seeking to uncover the grail of science — the elusive Theory of Everything that lies at the heart of the cosmos. In his accessible and often playful style, he guides us on his search to uncover the secrets of the universe — from supergravity to supersymmetry, from quantum theory to M-theory, from holography to duality.

He takes us to the wild frontiers of science, where superstring theory and p-branes may hold the final clue to the puzzle. And he lets us behind the scenes of one of his most exciting intellectual adventures as he seeks ‘to combine Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Richard Feynman’s idea of multiple histories into one complete unified theory that will describe everything that happens in the universe.'”


The Grand Design

“When and how did the universe begin? Why are we here? What is the nature of reality? Is the apparent ‘grand design’ of our universe evidence for a benevolent creator who set things in motion? Or does science offer another explanation? In The Grand Design, the most recent scientific thinking about the mysteries of the universe is presented in language marked by both brilliance and simplicity.

The Grand Design explains the latest thoughts about model-dependent realism (the idea that there is no one version of reality), and about the multiverse concept of reality in which there are many universes. There are new ideas about the top-down theory of cosmology (the idea that there is no one history of the universe, but that every possible history exists). It concludes with a riveting assessment of m-theory, and discusses whether it is the unified theory Einstein spent a lifetime searching for.”

See more books by Stephen Hawking here. Which of these have you read, and which are on your “to-read” list?

The lastest in physics and astrophysics

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You may also sign up with ease to be notified of forthcoming titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/. (Your e-mail address will remain confidential!)

If you’re heading to the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, WA January 4th–8th, come visit us at booth 413. See you there!

Invisible in the Storm wins the 2015 Louis J. Battan Author’s Award, American Meteorological Society

Congratulations to Ian Roulstone & John Norbury, co-authors of Invisible in the Storm: The Role of Mathematics in Understanding Weather, on winning the 2015 Louis J. Battan Author’s Award given by the American Meteorological Society.

The prize is “presented to the author(s) of an outstanding, newly published book on the atmospheric and related sciences of a technical or non-technical nature, with consideration to those books that foster public understanding of meteorology in adult audiences.” In the announcement of the prize, the committee said Invisible in the Storm “illuminates the mathematical foundation of weather prediction with lucid prose that provides a bridge between meteorologists and the public.”

For more information about the 2015 AMS awards: http://www.ametsoc.org/awards/2015awardrecipients.pdf


Invisible in the Storm
The Role of Mathematics in Understanding Weather
Ian Roulstone & John Norbury

This day in history — Voyager 1 launched by NASA

Credit: Princeton University Press (for more images of other unmanned flights, please visit http://www.pinterest.com/princetonupress/world-space-week-iphone-backgrounds/)

Credit: Princeton University Press (for more images of other unmanned flights, please visit http://www.pinterest.com/princetonupress/world-space-week-iphone-backgrounds/)

The summer of 1977 was an exciting time for space exploration. Scientists prepped twin long-distance spacecrafts for a mission to explore the far reaches of the Solar System. Voyager 2 launched earlier in the summer, but Voyager 1 departed planet Earth on September 5 (coincidentally, the same date that the space shuttle Discovery would later return to Earth in 1984). The Voyager crafts took vastly different routes, but together they helped NASA flesh out a “family portrait of four giant planets, their ring systems and magnetic fields, plus forty-eight of their moons,” according to Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration by Chris Impey and Holly Henry. Here are some other quick facts about the Voyager mission gleaned from the book which is a fascinating history of unmanned space exploration:

1.) Each Voyager spacecraft weighs about 800 kilograms, about the same as a Smart Car weighs, but much less than a Mini Cooper (surprising how much they weigh — check it out.)

2.) They have traveled more than 10 billion miles–more than a trip to Pluto and back–since they launched in 1977 and they are still going. You can track their location and see their mileage ticking away at this neat site from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA.

3.) Attached to the body of each spacecraft is a gold-plate, copper phonograph record that contains musical selections, images, and audio greetings in many world languages. What is on this record? According to Smithsonian Magazine, this time capsule disc contains over 150 recordings including Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”, whale songs, and a greeting from Nick Saga, Carl Sagan’s son in which he says, “Hello from the children of planet Earth.”

4.) The Voyager craft get great mileage — 80,000 miles per gallon — in part because they also use Radioisotopic Themoelectric Generators as a continuous source of power.

5.) The Voyager spacecrafts have about 160,000 Twitter followers and spend their time congratulating other Space missions. They actually have a good sense of humor as evidenced by this tweet:

6.) While the Voyager technology was cutting edge for the 1970s, it is quite obsolete now. The video camera attached to each Voyager craft was designed by RCA in the 1950s and the information they transmit travels at a rate 25,000 times slower than “basic broadband” internet service. In spite of this, Voyager supplied iconic images like this one of Neptune:

This image and others are available on the NASA Web site: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/neptune.html

This image and others are available on the NASA Web site: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/neptune.html

7.) Voyager 1 made lots of important discoveries about Jupiter including two new moons (Thebe and Metis) and a faint ring system. The Voyager spacecraft also observed  eruptions on Io, another Jupiter moon, which marked the first time volcanic activity was observed anywhere but Earth.

8.) Voyager 1 was the first man-made object to leave the solar system and it continues to travel out into the universe, sending bits of information back to scientists on Earth. NASA expects it will go silent sometime in the 2020s.


Read more about unmanned space exploration and missions like Voyager:


Dreams of Other Worlds:
The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration
Chris Impey & Holly Henry

Katherine Freese talks cocktails and dark matter with Jennifer Ouellette

Popular science journalist and author Jennifer Ouellette recently sat down with Princeton University Press author and theoretical astrophysicist Katherine Freese to discuss Freese’s new book, The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter. The full hour-long interview is available for listening on Blog Talk Radio.

Find Additional Science Podcasts with Jay Ackroyd on BlogTalkRadio

Katherine Freese is the George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan and Director of Nordita, the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics, in Stockholm. Her book traces the search for dark matter, from the discoveries of pioneers like Fritz Zwicky, who named dark matter in 1933, to today’s astounding insights into the very composition of the universe. Jennifer Ouellette’s books include Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales from the Annals of Physics and Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self. She also writes the Cocktail Party Physics blog for Scientific American.

Katherine Freese is the author of:

The Cosmic Cocktail The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter by Katherine Freese
Hardcover | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691153353
264 pp. | 6 x 9 |5 color illus. 42 halftones. 31 line illus. | Reviews

Quick Questions for Katherine Freese, author of The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter

Katherine FreeseKatherine Freese is the George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan, and the Associate Director of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics. Her work has a strong focus on topics within theoretical cosmology and astroparticle physics, particularly in identifying the dark matter and dark energy that permeate the universe.

Her latest book, The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter, details the quest to solve one of the greatest scientific enigmas of all time – what is the universe made of? Dr. Freese, one of the leading experts on dark matter, recounts the earliest speculation about this murky subject stretching from the 1930s to present day in clear, accessible prose. Dr. Freese received her B.A. in Physics from Princeton University; her M.A. in Physics from Columbia University; and her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago, where she was a recipient of the William Rainey Harper Dissertation Fellowship – the highest honor that the university offers to any graduate student.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

Katherine Freese: I was lucky to have role models and mentors who encouraged me to go into science. My parents, who were biologists, were among the founders of the field of molecular biology. Since my mother was a scientist, the notion of becoming a woman scientist wasn’t foreign to me. I dedicated my book The Cosmic Cocktail to them, as well at to my Ph.D. advisor, who was also very important.

I started graduate school as an experimentalist, working as a particle accelerator outside of Chicago to study elementary particles. Twice a week I drove into the city to take a class from David Schramm on cosmology. He was a giant of a man, both physically and intellectually. He was an Olympic hopeful wrestling champ, with the nickname “Schrammbo.” His course was so inspiring that I switched fields to work with him as my Ph.D. advisor. The field of particle astrophysics, applying the ideas of the smallest particles to the largest astronomical objects like galaxies, was in its infancy, and I learned from the master.

What would you have been if not a scientist?

I found it very hard to choose only career; in high school and college I loved everything. I always wanted to be a writer and an actress. But in the end I felt compelled to do something using mathematics, because it is ultimately so beautiful and satisfying.

“…We are creating our own questions, always driven by new technology.”

What is the biggest misunderstanding about what you do?

Now this is very funny. When I tell people I’m a cosmologist, they think I must be very good at make-up and they say, “Well that’s a good career for a woman!” No, I’m not a cosmetologist. If I say I’m an astronomer, they want me to read their palms. No, I’m not an astrologer.

If I say I’m a physicist, they think I must live in the world of the nerds because only really geeky people to physics. Well that is just plain wrong! We are not calculating balls rolling down hills (a problem that was solved centuries ago). Instead we are creating our own questions, always driven by new technology. We get to be very creative, and very collaborative, and we have a lot of fun. It is this myth that physicists are boring people that I would like to dispel in this book.

In the end I have learned to say I’m an astrophysicist because people seem to understand that best.

Why did you write this book?

I wrote the book for two reasons. I wanted to communicate the science I work on and I wanted to communicate the experience of being a scientist. It is both a popular-level book about science and a memoir.

The science side is the hunt for dark matter. Most of the matter in galaxies consists of as yet unidentified dark matter, probably some new kind of fundamental particle. This mystery was first identified in the 1930s, and I wrote the book now because scientists feel they are on the verge of discovery. I wanted to communicate the excitement that we are all feeling about resolving the bulk of the mass in the Universe. It is a great story and I thought people should know about it. Everyone should be aware of this momentous breakthrough that changes the way we look at our world.

“Science is collaborative; it’s fun. I wanted to share that experience.”

AND also, very importantly – I wanted to communicate the experience of being a scientist. How much fun it is, how exciting and creative, because I think people don’t realize that. The book tells my personal journey as a scientist, and recounts tales of the personalities of the remarkable people I met along the way. Doing science is in some ways a form of art. In the visual arts, the eyes see the colors and forms; it stimulates the brain and it gives you a high. In physics, it’s a different language, not of color or sound, but of mathematics. I get a high from doing science, and it can be better than drinking a cocktail! We are at the forefront of technology and we get to be very creative, every day. Science is collaborative; it’s fun. I wanted to share that experience.

A third secret reason for writing the book is to reach out to young women, to let them know that they too can pursue their dreams. If math or science is their passion, they should pursue it. Many of the top people in dark matter studies are women and I highlight their successes so that young women can have role models in the sciences.

My book, The Cosmic Cocktail, is the story of this search for dark matter. Like all discoveries and searches and adventures, the hunt for an answer to one of the mysteries of physics has been full of drama and excitement and surprise. And some pretty amazing characters!

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?

It took me about a year and a half to write the book. I’m not a morning person, so I would wake up at around 10 AM, and get to work an hour later. I worked best on my laptop at the kitchen table in my house. Since I am a professor at the University of Michigan, of course I also had to balance my writing with research, teaching, and administrative work at the University. Sometimes for several months I would get nothing done on my book, and other times, I focused on it exclusively. I was working 7 days a week, every waking hour (other than when I was at the gym) to get all this done for about a year, and that was not easy!

In March 2013 I had a concussion in the swimming pool, when another swimmer jumped in without telling me. I came off of the wall after my flip-turn and my head crashed directly into his. It’s a little unfair that he was completely uninjured whereas I was in agony for about a month. Concussion headaches are severe: I remember thinking that the Greek god Hephaestus (the blacksmith to the gods) was hammering a pick into my brain. I thought, just get it over with and split my head open! Since I couldn’t leave the house for a month I was incredibly productive on my book, working on it for up to ten hours a day. I couldn’t handle sound or light of any kind so sat there with my sunglasses on and did nothing but write. Not a modus operandi that I would recommend to anyone else! But I did get a lot done.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?

I first tried to write a book about cosmology ten years ago, but I didn’t know how to do it. I wrote down a bunch of facts about the Universe, and it all sounded very dry. But over the past ten years, I’ve been teaching students, and I gradually realized that they were much more interested if I told stories. I would describe the personalities of the scientists, or talk about some of the adventures we have in the process of doing the science. Then the students became much more excited about the course I was teaching and they ended up learning a lot more as a consequence. So gradually I came to merge my writing about the subject matter of cosmology with a memoir of my own history as a scientist. I guess you could say I found my “voice” as a writer.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

I hope that I have succeeded in conveying the fun and passion of doing science. I badly would like to dispel the myth that scientists are nerdy people working on boring subjects, calculating formulas to solve problems laid out for us by other people. We are pretty interesting! We create our own problems, driven by new advances in technology that allow us to be creative and fun. I hope I can convince young women that they can participate in this amazingly enjoyable and collaborative world of science. And of course I do believe that people who read this book will learn about the nature of the Universe, one of the deepest mysteries of modern science.

Who do you see as the audience for this book?

I have written The Cosmic Cocktail for the interested public as my audience. The book is both science and memoir. I am often asked, “Will I understand this book?” And my answer is yes. I think people are smart and interested in understanding their world. It is human nature to explore, and to ask questions about our Universe. I have not dumbed it down but I did definitely work to make it clear to the general public for whom this is not the field of study, not their area of expertise.

The book is lighthearted and fun and tells about the science of Dark Matter and also the personalities and personal stories of people involved. My goal is to share with people the excitement of doing science!

How did you come up with the title or jacket?

The Cosmic Cocktail is the perfect name for the book, as it is a recipe for the Universe —for what the Universe is made of. People find the answer very surprising. If we add up all the material of our daily experience — our bodies, the air, the walls, the vodka and gin, the stars and planets — all of that adds up to only 5% of the content of the Universe. The rest is the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that constitute the bulk of the Universe. The nature of the dark matter has been a major focus of my research and is the subject of this book.

What are you reading right now?

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. This book is a wonderful award-winning science fiction novel published in 2009. Set in the 23rd century, the book explores a dystopian future: most food has been genetically engineered to be sterile (with production controlled by a few powerful companies); carbon based energy has been used up and manually wound up springs are used instead; and a new humanoid life-form has been created, a “windup-girl.” The book is a great story and is very thought provoking.

What is your next project?

Dark stars. In 2007, my collaborators and I proposed the existence of a new kind of star, powered by dark matter annihilation rather than by fusion. We were inspired to call these objects “dark stars” after a song of the same name by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The first stars that form in the history of the Universe, 200 million years after the Big Bang, reside in very dark matter-rich environments. Though the stars are made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, a smattering of dark matter is enough to heat them and allow them to become very big and bright. They can grow to become a million times as massive as the Sun and a billion times as bright. The upcoming sequel to Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, will launch in 2018 and should be able to see them. We are now working on making predictions for what dark stars should look like in data taken by this space mission.


Katherine Freese is the author of:

The Cosmic Cocktail The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter by Katherine Freese
Hardcover | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691153353
264 pp. | 6 x 9 | 15 color illus. 42 halftones. 31 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400850075 | Reviews Table of Contents Chapter 1[PDF]

Quick Questions for Charles D. Bailyn, author of What Does a Black Hole Look Like?

Charles BailynCharles D. Bailyn is the A. Bartlett Giamatti professor Astronomy and Physics at Yale University. He is currently serving as Dean of Faculty at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. He was awarded the 2009 Bruno Rossi Prize from the American Astronomical Society for his work on measuring the masses of black holes, and the recipient of several other, equally prestigious awards.

Dr. Bailyn received his B.Sc. in Astronomy and Physics from Yale (1981) and completed his Ph.D. in Astronomy at Harvard (1987). His research interests are concentrated in High Energy Astrophysics and Galactic Astronomy, with a focus on observations of binary star systems containing black holes. His latest book, What Does a Black Hole Look Like? addresses lingering questions about the nature of Dark Matter and black holes, and is accessible to a variety of audiences.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

Charles D. Bailyn: Like a lot of little kids in the late 1960s, I was fascinated by space travel, and I wanted to be an astronaut. But then someone told me about space sickness – I’m prone to motion sickness, and that sounded pretty awful to me. So “astronaut” morphed into “astrophysicist” – I liked the idea of exploring the universe through math and physics. In college I thought I would work on relativity theory, but I didn’t quite have the mathematical prowess for that, and around that time I found out that the X-ray astronomers were actually observing black holes and related objects. So as a graduate student and post-doc I gradually moved from being a theorist to being an observer. I’ve analyzed data from many of NASA’s orbiting observatories, so I ended up being involved with the space program after all.

What would you have been if not an astronomer?

I’ve always loved music, particularly vocal music, and I’ve spent a lot of time in and around various kinds of amateur singing groups. I could easily see myself as a choral conductor.

What is the biggest misunderstanding that people have about astronomy?

Well, I’m always a bit amused and dismayed when I tell someone that I’m an astronomer, and they ask “what’s your sign?” – as if astronomy and astrology are the same thing. I used to tell people very seriously that I’m an Orion – this is puzzling, since most people know it’s a constellation but not part of the zodiac. At one point I had an elaborate fake explanation worked out about how this could be.

Why did you write this book? Who do you see as its audience?

There seem to be two kinds of books on black holes and relativity – books addressing a popular audience that use no math at all, and textbooks that focus on developing the relevant physical theory. This book was designed to sit in the middle. It assumes a basic knowledge of college physics, but instead of deriving the theory, its primary concerns are the observations and their interpretation. I’m basically talking to myself as a sophomore or junior in college.

“The unseen parts of the Universe are the most intriguing, at least to me.”

How did you come up with the title?

The Frontiers in Physics (Princeton) series like to have questions in the title, and this one is particularly provocative. Black holes by definition cannot be seen directly, so asking what they “look like” is a bit of an oxymoron. But a lot of modern astrophysics is like that – we have powerful empirical evidence for all sorts of things we can’t see, from planets around distant stars to the Dark Matter and Dark Energy that make up most of the stuff in the Universe. The unseen parts of the Universe are the most intriguing, at least to me.

What are you working on now?

I’m turning the online version of my introductory astronomy course into a book – kind of a retro move, turning online content into book format! It will be for a non-scientific rather than a scientific audience. But mostly I’m doing administrative work these days – I’m currently in Singapore serving as the inaugural Dean of Faculty for Yale-NUS College, the region’s first fully residential liberal arts college. The importance of science in a liberal arts curriculum is a passion of mine – after all, astronomy was one of the original liberal arts – and I’m glad to have a chance to bring this kind of education to a new audience, even though it takes me away from my scientific work for a while.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve been following the reading list for our second semester literature core class, starting from Don Quixote and Journey to the West, the first early modern novels in the European and Chinese traditions respectively, ending with Salman Rushdie, who is all about the interaction of East and West. It’s fun being a student again!


Charles D. Bailyn is the author of:

Buy the Book image What Does a Black Hole Look Like? by Charles D. Bailyn
Hardcover | August 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691148823
224 pp. | 5 x 8 | 21 line illus.| eBook | ISBN: 9781400850563 | Reviews

June, summer, and Princeton University Press in the movies

Friends of Princeton University Press,

With June here, and summer finally upon us, our thoughts go to pleasant things—vacations, beaches, baseball, and the summer movie season.

ivory tower

Princeton University Press has a special movie connection this summer–and beyond.

For starters, the soon-to-be-released documentary Ivory Tower, about the financial crisis in higher education, features prominently one of our authors, Andrew Delbanco, whose widely admired 2012 book, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, has been at the center of the debates over the future of higher education. Those who saw Page One, the acclaimed documentary about The New York Times and the challenges besetting newspapers, will be familiar with the work of Andrew Rossi, who made the film, Ivory Tower. Journalist Peter Coy reviews it in the current issue of Bloomberg Business Week, and mentions Andy Delbanco and our book.

Another PUP book forms the basis of the November 2014 release, The Imitation Game, the story of Alan Turing, the cryptologist who cracked the Enigma code during World War II and was later tortured for his homosexuality. The movie is based on our 2012 biography by Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma. The Imitation Game sports an all-star cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightly, and Charles Dance. We will be re-releasing Hodges’ biography under the title, The Imitation Game, in September. A related PUP book is Alan Turing’s Systems of Logic: The Princeton Thesis, edited in 2012 by Andrew Appel of the Princeton School of Engineering.  Our poster for The Imitation Game generated huge interest last week at Book Expo in New York.

Speaking of all-star casts, the third movie with a connection to a forthcoming PUP book is Interstellar, also to be released in November, and starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, and Michael Caine. The premise of Interstellar is based on the work of PUP author and Caltech theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who is credited as a consultant and executive producer of the film. His forthcoming book, with Stanford’s Roger Blandford, is Modern Classical Physics. Kip Thorne has another PUP connection, serving as he does on the Executive Committee of the Einstein Papers Project.

See you at the movies,

Peter J Dougherty

A letter from Ingrid Gnerlich, Executive Editor of Physical and Earth Sciences

Photo on 2014-05-14Dear Readers:

As many of you will know, in November 2013, the remarkable astrophysicist, Dimitri Mihalas – a pioneering mind in computational astrophysics, and a world leader in the fields of radiation transport, radiation hydrodynamics, and astrophysical quantitative spectroscopy – passed away.  Though deeply saddened by this news, I also feel a unique sense of honor that, this year, I am able to announce the much-anticipated text, Theory of Stellar Atmospheres:  An Introduction to Astrophysical Non-equilibrium Quantitative Spectroscopic Analysis, co-authored by Ivan Hubeny and Dimitri Mihalas.  This book is the most recent publication in our Princeton Series in Astrophysics (David Spergel, advising editor), and it is a complete revision of Mihalas’s Stellar Atmospheres, first published in 1970 and considered by many to be the “bible” of the field.  This new edition serves to provide a state of the art synthesis of the theory and methods of the quantitative spectroscopic analysis of the observable outer layers of stars.  Designed to be self-contained, beginning upper-level undergraduate and graduate-level students will find it accessible, while advanced students, researchers, and professionals will also gain deeper insight from its pages.  I look forward to bringing this very special book to the attention of a wide readership of students and researchers.

It is also with profound excitement that I would like to announce the imminent publication of Kip Thorne and Roger Blandford’s Modern Classical Physics:  Optics, Fluids, Plasmas, Elasticity, Relativity, and Statistical Physics.  This is a first-year, graduate-level introduction to the fundamental concepts and 21st-century applications of six major branches of classical physics that every masters- or PhD-level physicist should be exposed to, but often isn’t.  Early readers have described the manuscript as “splendid,” “audacious,” and a “tour de force,” and I couldn’t agree more.  Stay tuned!

Lastly, it is a pleasure to announce a number of newly and vibrantly redesigned books in our popular-level series, the Princeton Science Library.  These include Richard Alley’s The Two-Mile Time Machine, which Elizabeth Kolbert has called a “fascinating” work that “will make you look at the world in a new way” (The Week), as well as G. Polya’s bestselling must-read, How to Solve It.  In addition, the classics by Einstein, The Meaning of Relativity, with an introduction by Brian Greene, and Feynman, QED, introduced by A. Zee, are certainly not to be missed.

Of course, these are just a few of the many new books on the Princeton list I hope you’ll explore.  My thanks to you all—readers, authors, and trusted advisors—for your enduring support. I hope that you enjoy our books and that you will continue to let me know what you would like to read in the future.

Ingrid Gnerlich
Executive Editor, Physical & Earth Sciences

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.