Publisher description for The fullness of space : nebulae, stardust, and the interstellar medium / Gareth Wynn-Williams.


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Counter A brief glance at the night sky reveals a remarkable fact about the Universe: it is extremely patchy. The light we see on a moonless night comes from bright specks we call planets and stars. Between the stars we see blackness. Most of astronomy, not to mention geology, biology, and all humanistic studies, is concerned with what happens in and on these bright specks. Yet these lumps and specks, which include the Earth, the Sun, the planets of our solar system, and all the stars together occupy less than one billion billion billionth (10-27) of the total volume of the Universe. It is astonishing to think that the interstellar medium within our Galaxy, the Milky Way, is anything but empty space. But in most of the Galaxy, the density of interstellar matter is thousands of times lower than that of the best vacuum produced on Earth. In fact, there is enough interstellar matter in the Galaxy to make ten billion stars the size of the Sun. In this excellently crafted book, the author gives full treatment to the nature of the stuff between the stars and to the methods that astronomers use to study it. He explains where the matter came from in the first place, how it collects together in clouds and clumps, and the way in which new stars and planets form from material in space. Through his descriptions we see the matter as glorious gas clouds, such as the Orion Nebula, shimmering in rich hues of red and orange. Telescopes reveal inky black clouds, the molecule factories in which new stars and planets are made. Radio, infrared, and ultraviolet telescopes have given astronomers stunning new images of interstellar matter. The Fullness of Space is written for the general reader interested in science. It assumes no scientific or mathematical background, and the only equations in the whole book are found in the appendices. It is beautifully illustrated with many of the finest photographs available of dust clouds and bright nebulae. Readers from high school age to adult will find this an enriching and rewarding book. Gareth Wynn-Williams was educated at Cambridge University and held a teaching position there and a fellowship at the California Institute of Technology before accepting a position as Professor of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii. He has written popular articles on astronomy for Scientific American, New Scientist, and Physics Bulletin.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Astronomy, Interstellar matter, Cosmic dust