ASTRONOMY picture-books are addictive. Overlap as they may, each usually has ravishing color-plates the others lack, and that's good enough reason to buy it. In fact, the books come cheaper than do blow-ups of individual photographs.
The Mittons include some deliciously rusty shots of Mars from the Viking cameras, but their most unusual pictures are of the Galaxy Perseus A ("a tangle of hydrogen shreds" like an exploding white dove) and the planetary nebula NGC 6302, which resembles two rosy tropical fish colliding nose-on.
Such views are manna to the sense of wonder, and this book has many, colorful, solid diagrams that spell out such things as stars sizes, Earth's magnetosphere, and clusters of galaxies. The text is unpretentious, almost terse, and sometimes awkwarkly staccato: "X-rays cannot travel very far through our atmosphere. Space scientists have made automatic astronomy observatories. These orbit Earth high above the atmosphere." It sounds like a television script with the transitional visuals omitted, but at least it's lucid.
Earth, we learn, is closest to the Sun in January, and the Mittons explain why that doesn't make us warmer. They also point out that the southern half of the sky has modern rather than mythci constellation names because "civilization did not reach the southern hemisphere until explorers from Europe travelled there." Yes, but why not give a couple of examples, such as the constellations "Sculptor" and "Telescoptium," and include the southern sky in the maps".
This is a book for beginners of all ages, and I think it will send readers on to fatter, fuller books more concerned with galaxies, quasars, and cosmology itself, which the Mittons treat consisely. The best chapters (or entries) of the 45 offered are those on the asteroid belt, star deaths and sunspots, while the worst reproductions are that of the Milky Way (there are less puzzling images available) and that of Jupiter (but only because, thanks to Voyager I) its out of date). All in all, a pretty, tightly explicit book for its price.
Because of the superb fresco of pictures sent back last March by Voyager I; Jupiter and its moons will never be the same again, at least in astronomy books. And the space shuttle-our snag-plagued cosmic wooden horse will soon be showering us with even more undreamed of wonders. Or if dreamed of, better photographed because our atmosphere will no longer be in the way.
L. B. Taylor's handy little book presents the shuttle in the round, from "Why the Shuttle?" and the "The Lessons of Skylab" to such topics as Earthly benefits and the industralization of space. The first chapter dramatizes a succesful launch and return (though forgetting to mention that the shuttle's fuselage will be very hot even after landing), complete with dialogue and a woman astronomer comfortably observing the solar disk. There's a lot of information in these pages, which emphasize the international and potentially routine nature of shuttle and spacelab operations. Almost anyone in "reasonably good heath" can apply for a seat, and this little book-which recalls that America was discovered by "men . . . looking for spices on the other side of the world" - is a tempting, readable invitation to space-hungerers of all ages.