New Maine Times Book Review: Nebulae

Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2013 in Culture

New Maine Times Book Review: Nebulae
NEBULAE:  A BACKYARD COSMOGRAPHY
By Dana Wilde.
Booklocker, 2012.
313 pages, $20.95.
ISBN 978-1-62141-716-3.
 
Reviewed by William D. Bushnell
 
    In 1584 Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno wrote:  “The universe is then one, infinite, immobile...It is not capable of comprehension and therefore is endless and limitless, and to that extent infinite and indeterminable, and consequently immobile.”  And then he was burned at the stake.  Not for poor sentence structure, but for advocating that the universe was infinite.
 
    Fortunately, today’s philosophers and scientists are not pilloried for their questions and observations, but rather, they are applauded for exploring the unknown and for questioning what we don’t know (and in some cases for what we think we do know).  Amateur astronomer Dana Wilde is just such a man.
 
    When Wilde looks up into the night sky, he sees and understands things about the universe that most people never even think about.  His latest book, NEBULAE, is an intriguing reflection of his personal odyssey to learn about the stars and planets, the constellations, and solar systems.  He is fascinated by the fact that the universe is so immense it is difficult for humans to comprehend its size and complexity, and the bold fact that we know so little about it.
 
    Wilde lives in Troy, Maine, is an editor, college professor, and author of THE OTHER END OF THE DRIVEWAY (Booklocker, 2011), a collection of essays about the natural world.  This book contains forty-four essays, many previously published in the Bangor Daily News and other publications, and a few are original to this work.
 
    Wilde is a thoughtful man, smart and articulate, and his writings here reveal much about the curious history of astronomy (what the ancient Arabs, Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Hindus really thought about the stars and the universe and how they discovered them in the first place), the science of cosmography (the mapping of the universe), and his own philosophical thoughts on infinity, astrological mythology, and space-time.
 
    Several of the essays are scholarly mind-numbing, but once past obscure scientific jargon like epiphenomalism, bosons, gluons, and eclipsing binary, the reader will find a wealth of fascinating historical and scientific information about our universe.
 
    In his essay, “Starlight,” Wilde vividly describes the most famous stars (Big Dipper, the North Star, Arcturus, Orion, Sirius, Cassiopeia, and others), where to find them in the night sky, why they are different colors, and how they got their unusual names.  This essay also explains how stars are classified by things like color, luminosity, magnitude, and proper motion.
 
    Several essays explain how Ptolemy of Alexandria, Egypt in the 2nd century A.D. accurately mapped the planetary motions, and the contributions to astronomy of men like Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Hubble.
 
    Other essays describe Jupiter’s sixty moons and Saturn’s rings, the mechanics of lunar and solar eclipses, how Pluto got kicked off the planet list, and the dynamics of the sun’s thermonuclear fusion and its sunspots, solar flares, and solar “music.”
 
    Best are the essays, “Diamond Stars” about how stars are born and how they die, and “New Stars” which explains the huge release of energy in exploding stars like novas and supernovas.
 
    Learn too why stars are constantly moving in the sky, which star is called the “Demon Star” and why, the religious interpretations of the stars and planets, which Greek philosopher stumped even the brilliant Socrates, which is the second-brightest object in our sky (besides the moon), and why the Milky Way is not just a tasty candy bar.
 
    This is heavy stuff, indeed; certainly not for the casual lay reader, but well-crafted and presented and definitely appealing to readers with a scientific curiosity about the mysteries of the universe.
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