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Book review #2: “Weird Astronomy”


This is a really, really fun book, I loved it from start to finish.

If you think of the book I reviewed in the previous post as a serious lecture, by an academic, listened to in a darkened auditorium, this book is a chat in  a corner of a noisy pub, with a guy who’s just as much an enthusiast and amater as you are. That’s not taking anything away from that other book, not at all; I’m just saying this is a much lighter, much more entertaining read, both because of its subject matter – the cover of this book states it contains “Tales of Unusual, Bizarre and Hard to Explain Observations” – and the writing style of its author, David A.J. Seargent.

Essentially, this book looks at many of the weird and wonderful things astronomers have reported seeing, or indeed hearing,  in the sky. It’s a bit like “CSI: Astronomy”, because it discusses many of the most famous “Hmm, really?” stories from astronomy, puts them under a microscope and tries to work out what the people involved actually saw. For example, there’s a very famous story of how, in 1178, a group of monks in Canterbury saw flames shooting off the Moon, and their description sounds very much to our modern ears like an account of a major asteroid impact on the Moon. Seargent looks at the story carefully, putting it under the microscope to try and come up with an explanation, and concludes they probably saw a large meteor exploding in the Earth’s atmosphere, in their line of sight with the Moon, making them think the Moon itself had been exploding.

Ahhhh… makes sense…!

And the book is full of careful examinations of stories and tales like that from the world of astronomy, historic and modern. It’s not a “myth-busting” book – it doesn’t deal with the tin foil hat wearing cranks, nutters and idiots who still refuse the believe we went to the Moon, for example – instead it tries to make sense of some of the “urban myths” of the astrononomical world, such as…

* The planet Vulcan

* The Face, “gorilla” and “Glass Worms” of Mars

* “Black” meteors and meteors that appear to suddenly change direction

* Transient Lunar Phenomena

This is a good, light read, rather than a challenging read, as I said earlier. It makes you stop and think “Ah, right, yes, that would explain it…!” several times as you read through it, and also makes you realise just how far observational astronomy has come.

One of the best things about the book is that it is littered with lots of suggestions for experiments and observations the reader can do themselves, to gain a better understanding of how the night sky works and what can be seen in it. There’s brief but good advice on such things as estimating the brightness of an eclipsed Moon, spotting Syrtis Major on Mars, and trying to spot Jupiter’s moons without any optical aid.

All in all a very enjoyable read, written in a friendly, informal style. Definitely a book to have within easy reach for those nights when the clouds refuse to part.

“WEIRD ASTRONOMY” – Tales of Unusual, Bizarre and Other Hard to Explain Observations”, by David A.J. Seargent

Springer Books

ISBN 978-1-4419-6423-6

Amazon link


One Response

    Just received my cope, ordered it after reading your review, looking forward to reading it.

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