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TIME FOR THE STARS by Alan Lightman

TIME FOR THE STARS

Astronomy in the 1990s

By Alan Lightman

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-670-83976-0
Publisher: Viking

 Lightman (Physics; Science and Writing/MIT) departs from his usual lighthearted essays and popular discourses on science (A Modern Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court, 1986; Time Travel and Papa Joe's Pipe, 1984) to present a no-nonsense summary of prospects for astronomy in the decade ahead. ``Prospects'' seems the apposite word since Lightman is really offering a prospectus here, outlining what could be done to further knowledge of the universe if all the recommendations for new instrumentation and computer technology were implemented. Indeed, he bases his argument on a research plan prepared at the start of each decade (since the 1960's) by the Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey of the National Academy of Sciences with the hope that Congress will provide the funding. So while the chapters follow a logical sequence of what we do and don't know about the universe from planets to stars to galaxies to cosmology, the emphasis is on why we need bigger and better telescopes, interferometers, earth- bound or orbiting instruments, and the automation to back them up. Alas, the result is more alphabet soup than heavenly broth as we learn what can be done by GONG (Global Oscillations Network Group)- -measure seismic activity on the sun; or AXAF (Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility)--analyze X-rays emitted by supernovae. Lightman packages the plan with enough who, what, and why to be intelligible to curious readers, but primarily those who are already knowledgeable and interested. Let us hope the necessary congressmen are included. (Twenty-five b&w illustrations--not seen.)