Cover image for Unfolding our universe
Unfolding our universe
Nicolson, Iain.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
ix, 294 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 29 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QB43.2 .N53 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize
QB43.2 .N53 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

On Order



Unfolding Our Universe is a comprehensive and accessible introduction to astronomy. With a clear, crisp text and beautiful colour illustrations, it takes readers to the heart of the Universe - explaining the facts, concepts, methods and frontiers of astronomical science. The book can be read right through without referring to any mathematics. For the more ambitious reader, key points are developed in more detail and basic mathematics provided in self-contained boxes. A unique feature of Unfolding Our Universe is the careful balance it strikes between the basics of the subject and its frontiers. Step by step, it carefully assembles a complete understanding of astronomy. Full colour throughout and a very readable text make this book a delight for the casual reader to browse, while the clear and concise explanations will appeal to amateur astronomers, science teachers and college and university students seeking a no-nonsense introduction to astronomy.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

If it isn't already "the most famous photograph ever taken by [the] Hubble" Space Telescope--as Wilkie and Rosselli suggest--the Hubble's portrait of pillars of gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, with new stars coming to life some 7,000 years ago, will surely be the most familiar Hubble photo once this season's remarkable astronomy books reach the shelves. The image graces the front dust jackets of Other Worlds and Visions of Heaven, is inset on the back dust jacket of Magnificent Universe, and is featured and discussed in those books and in Unfolding Our Universe. Former Astronomy magazine editor Burnham's focus is too narrow to include that Hubble picture. But Great Comets, too, is lavishly illustrated, with images of great comets Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp, taken by both amateur and professional astrophotographers during the comets' 1996 and 1997 flybys. Burnham celebrates the great comets and describes new knowledge their study has provided about the composition of the universe. He discusses the Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp passages in detail and considers past and planned scientific missions to study comets, as well as the cultural impact of comets through the ages. We are now, Burnham suggests, "in the curious position of discarding a former superstition while keeping a wary eye on Earth's neighborhood." Burnham's final chapter provides print and Web resources on comets. Nicolson's Unfolding Our Universe is the most academic of these featured books: although it includes plenty of fascinating deep-space photographs, it also offers dozens of diagrams and charts that clarify astronomical basics. Nicolson's explanations are sometimes a bit dry, but beginning astronomy buffs will relish his discussions of, for example, how various types of telescopes work and the physics of star formation. Three brief appendixes summarize useful information on measurement, the solar system, and the brightest and nearest stars. The Hubble Space Telescope is, in a sense, the center of Wilkie and Rosselli's Visions of Heaven: their narrative includes the story of how Hubble was lifted into space and how its inadequately focused instruments were mended. When images from other sources are included, the authors' major intent is to demonstrate how Hubble has improved scientists' understanding of what's going on "out there." In other respects, this British volume by a physicist and a journalist adopts the same objective as Croswell and Trefil: to use these astonishing pictures to illustrate current scientific knowledge about planets, nebulae, and galaxies, and about distant places and distant times. Lack of an index is their volume's one weakness. The big dogs in the battle for astronomy shelf space (and, no doubt, coffee-table space) are Croswell and Trefil, award-winning science writers known for enabling nonspecialists to grasp complex subjects. Trefil, a George Mason University physics professor, opens Other Worlds with a helpful analogy: he visualizes the universe as a huge matryoshka doll, with our entire solar system in the two smallest dolls and five more layers of "dolls" beyond the known universe. This concentric image serves Trefil well as he examines the birth of the solar system and then its inner and outer planets. He closes with a discussion of the universe beyond our solar system--"The Great Beyond." Croswell, author of Planet Quest (1997), also moves outward from our solar system to stars, galaxies, and the universe itself, but well over half the book focuses on stars and galaxies. Thus, readers will find thorough explanations of star spots and star clusters, the event horizon, and galactic empires. Like Trefil, he includes images from a number of sources; like Trefil, Wilkie and Rosselli, and Nicolson, Croswell closes with a thoughtful discussion of the cosmological questions the study of astronomy inevitably raises. A glossary and suggested further reading are appended, along with five tables of data on our neighboring planets, moons, stars, and local group galaxies. --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

Authors of introductory astronomy books strive to cover, in a single volume, an ancient yet dynamic discipline whose scope literally spans the universe. Dickinson (Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe) and Nicolson (Heavenly Bodies) succeed in meeting this challenge. Both provide brief overviews of the universe and organize their work in traditional fashion, progressing from study of Earth and the moon to examination of more remote objects and thence to cosmology. Each book includes data obtained as recently as 1998. Both authors examine the likelihood of finding living organisms elsewhere in the solar system and the possibility of intelligent life existing in another part of the universe. Dickinson, however, devotes considerably more space to (highly speculative) discussion of extraterrestrial life. His upbeat book, displaying an abundance of stunning photographs and space art, is by far the more appealing. Nicolson's work, on the other hand, is more inclusive and covers topics in considerably more detail. It could easily serve as a college-level text (although it lacks the exercises and review questions found in many introductory textbooks). Dickinson's book is recommended for all libraries; Nicolson's for academic and larger public collections.ÄNancy Curtis, Fogler Lib., Univ. of Maine, Orono (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A cross between a popularization and a textbook, Nicolson's volume provides the best of both worlds. It is more detailed than a coffee-table book and has better illustrations and less math than a textbook. Award-winning author Nicolson (Univ. of Hertfordshire, UK) provides clear, concise explanations for a comprehensive set of topics covering many facets of modern astronomy. Among the highlights are the recent discoveries of planets orbiting other stars, extragalactic astronomy, and cosmology. He is especially careful to separate currently accepted theory from speculation. The excellent photographs and numerous color drawings greatly enhance the explanations of concepts that are often difficult to visualize. Some figures and tables are listed by code in the index when they appear separate from the text. For the beginner, the large glossary is an added benefit. A lovely book with well-laid out pages and high printing quality. Highly recommended for general readers. M.-K. Hemenway; University of Texas at Austin

Table of Contents

1 Overview of the universe
2 Observing the universe
3 The moving sky
4 Orbits and gravity
5 The earth-moon system
6 Worlds beyond - the planets
7 Wandering fragments: minor members of the solar system
8 The sun - our neighborhood star
9 Stars - basic properties
10 Nebulae and the birth of stars and planets
11 Stellar life cycles
12 Collapsing, exploding and interacting stars
13 The Milky Way and other galaxies
14 Active Galaxies and Quasars
15 Cosmology: beginnings and endings
16 Wider issues
1 Units of measurement and physical constants
2 Solar system data
3 The brightest and nearest stars