Book of the Month November 2023

Galileo Antichrist: A Biography

by Michael White


A giant of science, Galileo’s achievements allow him to be bracketed alongside Newton, Einstein, and Darwin. A devout Roman Catholic, his genius threw him into conflict with his Church and his refusal to back down turned him into a martyr for many. Here, bestselling author Michael White gets to grips with the man and the world he challenged. Both biography and exploration of a time when religious and scientific understanding had become deeply and dangerously intertwined, Galileo Antichrist traces the path that led to its subject’s denunciation as a heretic. While it is perfectly possible to view Galileo’s collision with the Catholic Church as near inevitable, White draws on evidence recently discovered in the Vatican archives to question the accepted reasons for his trial. In doing so he shows why Galileo became such a contentious figure that, centuries later, the Pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, felt driven to declare the process against the father of science as “reasonable and just.”

This book will be available at the conclusion of the November 13th, 2023 RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.



Book of the Month September 2023

Transiting Exoplanets

by Carole A. Haswell 


This month’s Book of the Month was kindly donated by Luca Vanzella.  An exoplanet is a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun.  In Transiting Exoplanets by Carole A. Haswell, the methods used in the detection and characterization of exoplanets are presented through the study of transiting systems in this unique textbook for advanced undergraduates.  From determining the atmospheric properties of transiting exoplanets, to measuring the planetary orbit’s alignment with the stellar spin, students will discover what these measurements imply for reinvigorated theories of planet formation and evolution.  The book is completely self-contained with numerous worked examples and exercises.

This book will be available at the conclusion of the September 11th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.



Book of the Month May 2023

The Pluto System After New Horizons

by Dr. Alan Stern

Hardcover – Illustrated, August 10, 2021


Once perceived as distant, cold, dark, and seemingly unknowable, Pluto had long been marked as the farthest and most unreachable frontier for solar system exploration. After Voyager accomplished its final planetary reconnaissance at Neptune in 1989, Pluto and its cohort in the Kuiper Belt beckoned as the missing puzzle piece for completing the first reconnaissance of our solar system. In the decades following Voyager, a mission to the Pluto system was not only imagined but also achieved, culminating with the historic 2015 flyby by the New Horizons spacecraft. Pluto and its satellite system (“the Pluto system”), including its largest moon, Charon, have been revealed to be worlds of enormous complexity that fantastically exceed preconceptions.

The Pluto System After New Horizons seeks to become the benchmark for synthesizing our understanding of the Pluto system. The volume’s lead editor is S. Alan Stern, who also serves as NASA’s New Horizons Principal Investigator; co-editors Richard P. Binzel, William M. Grundy, Jeffrey M. Moore, and Leslie A. Young are all co-investigators on New Horizons. Leading researchers from around the globe have spent the last five years assimilating Pluto system flyby data returned from New Horizons. The chapters in this volume form an enduring foundation for ongoing study and understanding of the Pluto system. The volume also advances insights into the nature of dwarf planets and Kuiper Belt objects, providing a cornerstone for planning new missions that may return to the Pluto system and explore others of the myriad important worlds beyond Neptune.

Dr. Alan Stern is a planetary scientist, space program executive, aerospace consultant, and author. He leads NASA’s $880M New Horizons mission that successfully explored the Pluto system and is now exploring the Kuiper Belt—the farthest exploration in the history of humankind.

In both 2007 and 2016, he was named to the Time 100 list. In 2007 and 2008, Dr. Stern served as NASA’s chief of all space and Earth science programs, directing a $4.4B organization with 93 separate flight missions and a program of over 3,000 research grants. During his NASA tenure, a record 10 major new flight projects were started and deep reforms of NASA’s scientific research and the education and public outreach programs were put in place. His tenure was notable for an emphasis on cost control in NASA flight missions that resulted in a 63% decrease in cost overruns.

Since 2008, Dr. Stern has had his own aerospace consulting practice. His current and former consulting clients include Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Naveen Jain’s Moon Express Google Lunar X-Prize team, Ball Aerospace, Paragon Space Development Corporation, the NASTAR Center, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and the Johns Hopkins University.

Since 2009, he has been an Associate Vice President and Special Assistant to the President at the Southwest Research Institute. Additionally, from 2008-2012 he served on the board of directors of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, and as the Chief Scientist and Mission Architect for Moon Express from 2010-2013. From 2011-2013 he served as the Director of the Florida Space Institute. Dr. Stern is a founder and serves as the Chief Science Officer of World View, a near-space ballooning company that he is co-founder of. In 2016 and again in 2017 he was elected to be the Board Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. Dr. Stern is also the CEO of a small corporation—The Golden Spike Company.

His career has taken him to numerous astronomical observatories, to the South Pole, and to the upper atmosphere aboard various high performance NASA aircraft including F/A-18 Hornets, F-104 Starfighters, KC-135 Zero-G, and WB-57 Canberras. He has been involved as a researcher in 29 suborbital, orbital, and planetary space missions, including 14 for which he was a principle investigator; and he has led the development of 8 scientific instruments for NASA space missions. In 1995, he was selected as a Space Shuttle Mission Specialist finalist, and in 1996 he was a candidate Space Shuttle Payload Specialist. In 2010, he became a suborbital payload specialist trainee, and is expected to fly several suborbital space missions aboard Virgin Galactic vehicles in 2019-2020.

Before receiving his doctorate from the University of Colorado in 1989, Dr. Stern completed twin masters degrees in aerospace engineering and atmospheric sciences (1980 and 1981), and then spent six years as an aerospace systems engineer, concentrating on spacecraft and payload systems at the NASA Johnson Space Center, Martin Marietta Aerospace, and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado. His two undergraduate degrees are in physics and astronomy from the University of Texas (1978 and 1980).

Dr. Stern has published over 290 technical papers and 40 popular articles. He has given over 400 technical talks and over 200 popular lectures and speeches about astronomy and the space program. He has written two books, The U.S. Space Program After Challenger (Franklin-Watts, 1987), and Pluto and Charon: Ice Worlds on the Ragged Edge of the Solar System (Wiley 1997, 2005). Additionally, he has served as editor on three technical volumes, and three collections of scientific popularizations: Our Worlds (Cambridge, 1998), Our Universe (Cambridge, 2000), and Worlds Beyond (Cambridge, 2003). In May of 2018 his new book with coauthor David Grinspoon, Chasing New Horizons (Picador Press) will be published.

Dr. Stern has over 30 years of experience in space instrument development, with a strong concentration in ultraviolet technologies. He has been a Principal Investigator (PI) in NASA’s UV sounding rocket program, and was the project scientist on a Shuttle-deployable SPARTAN astronomical satellite. He was the PI of the advanced, miniaturized HIPPS Pluto breadboard camera/IR spectrometer/UV spectrometer payload. Dr. Stern is also the PI of the Alice UV Spectrometer for the ESA/NASA Rosetta comet orbiter, launched in 2004, and served as the PI of the LAMP instrument on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, which launched in 2009. He has served as a Co-Investigator on numerous NASA and ESA planetary missions.

Dr. Stern’s academic research has focused on studies of our solar system’s Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud, comets, the satellites of the outer planets, the Pluto system, and the search for evidence of solar systems around other stars. He has also worked on spacecraft rendezvous theory, terrestrial polar mesospheric clouds, galactic astrophysics, and studies of tenuous satellite atmospheres, including the atmosphere of the moon.

Dr. Stern is a fellow of the AAAS, the Royal Astronomical Society, The Explorer’s Club, and is a member of the AAS, IAF, and the AGU; he was elected incoming chair of the Division of Planetary Sciences in 2006. He was awarded the 2006 Von Braun Aerospace Achievement Award of the National Space Society, the 2007 University of Colorado George Norlin Distinguished Alumnus Award, the 2009 St. Mark’s Preparatory School Distinguished Alumnus Award, Smithsonian Magazine’s 2015 American Ingenuity Award, the 2016 Sagan Memorial Award of the American Astronautical Society, the 2016 Cosmos Award of The Planetary Society, the 2016 NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, its highest civilian award, and the 2017 Distinguished Alumnus Award of the College of Natural Sciences of the University of Texas.

Dr. Stern’s personal interests include running, hiking, camping, and writing. He is an instrument-rated commercial pilot and flight instructor, with both powered and sailplane ratings. He and his wife Carole have two daughters and a son; they make their home near Boulder, Colorado.


This book will be available at the conclusion of the May8th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.



Book of the Month April 2023

The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers

by Emily Levesque

Review by

The story of the people who see beyond the stars


Humans from the earliest civilizations were spellbound by the night sky-craning their necks each night, they used the stars to orient themselves in the large, strange world around them. Stargazing is a pursuit that continues to fascinate us: from Copernicus to Carl Sagan, astronomers throughout history have spent their lives trying to answer the biggest questions in the universe. Now, award-winning astronomer Emily Levesque shares the stories of modern-day stargazers, the people willing to adventure across high mountaintops and to some of the most remote corners of the planet, all in the name of science.

In The Last Stargazers, Levesque takes readers inside the most powerful telescopes in the world and introduces them to the people who run them. She also explores the future of one of the most ancient and inspiring scientific disciplines as we gain the ability to see farther beyond our planet than ever before while relying increasingly on code and computers to study the stars.

From the lonely quiet of midnight stargazing to tall tales of wild bears loose in the observatory, The Last Stargazers is a love letter to astronomy and an affirmation of the crucial role that humans can and must play in the future of scientific discovery.

Dr. Emily Levesque is an astronomy professor at the University of Washington. Her research is focused on understanding how the most massive stars in the universe evolve and die. She has observed for upward of fifty nights on many of the planet’s largest telescopes and flown over the Antarctic stratosphere in an experimental aircraft for her research. Her academic accolades include the 2014 Annie Jump Cannon Award, a 2017 Alfred P. Sloan fellowship, a 2019 Cottrell Scholar award, and the 2020 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT and a PhD in astronomy from the University of Hawaii. 

This book will be available at the conclusion of the April 17th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.



Book of the Month March 2020

Goldilocks and the Water Bears: The Search for Life in the Universe 

by Louisa Preston

Review by Goodreads:

Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe from its origins to its evolution into intelligent sentient beings. All life as we know it is carbon-based, reliant on sources of liquid water and energy for its survival, and as far as we are aware, exists only on Earth.

Our planet occupies a unique spot in the solar system. It is just the right distance from the Sun–within the so-called Goldilocks Zone–to be not too hot or too cold for liquid water to be stable on its surface, which, together with a protective shielding atmosphere, allowed the four-billion-year journey from a single-celled organism to an upright humanoid species. Most of primordial life, if seen today, would be classified as “alien,” as it bears little resemblance to anything that currently exists.

We can learn much about the possibilities of extraterrestrial life by studying life forms from our planet’s history and by exploring organisms still present in harsh environments on Earth that mimic those on other worlds. These organisms, called “extremophiles,” are directing our search for alien life throughout the solar system and beyond. Could we one day find Earth’s toughest animal, the microscopic water bear, living under the surface of another world? Goldilocks and the Water Bears is an accessible introduction to the most fascinating of all the astro-sciences–the quest to learn whether we are alone in the universe.

Louisa Preston is an astrobiologist and planetary geologist whose research has included the search for signs of life that could survive the harsh environments of Mars. She has a Ph.D. in astrobiology and planetary geology from Imperial College London and has completed two postdocs, working on space-mission simulations and the creation of a global database of Martian and lunar analog environments for the European Space Agency. Preston lives in London, England.

This book will be available at the conclusion of the March 9th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.


Book of the Month February 2020

Rainbows, Halos, and Glories  by Robert Greenler

This month we have a guest review by our member Alister Ling. Read on!

When I was a teenager I had been content coming across the occasional jewel of a rainbow or 22-degree halo, but suddenly a window into the treasure room of the skies swept open before me. Four years into my RASC membership, this book was reviewed in Sky & Telescope, and my jaw dropped like someone seeing the Moon through a scope for the first time.

But an older book in today’s click-click world? Sure you can find out a fair bit on the internet, specifically at Les Cowley’s Atmospheric Optics website, but you miss out on the author’s story-telling of his journey of personal discovery, one that will soon be yours too. He maps out in detail how most halos change shape as the Sun (or Moon!) rises (sets) in the sky. All this with clear diagrams and no equations. Also, when you’re on the internet, it really helps to know what you’re looking for! If you are like I was at the beginning, you will appreciate a guide to show you what is even possible.

Thanks to Greenler’s explanations, I have seen segments of halos behind me, from a plane, on the grass at the golf course, in the fog, under a pollen-filled flow, and in a spray of precious stone flickers on a snow-covered driveway. Some halos last all day, yet rare arcs come and go in a matter of minutes. I figure on average I see some form of halo every 3 days, a lifetime total so far of about 8000.

In addition to the subtle variations in the extra arcs below the rainbow’s violet curve, coloured rings around the Moon, and the wide range in ice crystal halo forms, Greenler takes the reader through the play of light in clouds, the red of the sunset, and the purples in the belt of Venus shortly after. He finishes off with the mechanics of mirages, the twinkling of stars, and the formation of the famous green flash.

Follow this up (or start) with Marcel Minnaert’s “The Nature of Light and Color in the Open Air”. You won’t believe the number of marvellous things happening all around you that you’ve never noticed before. The more you know, the more you see. What a fantastic universe we live in, and it’s all the better when you get a buzz from appreciating every little lick and flicker of light. 

This book will be available at the conclusion of the February 10th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.

Book of the Month January 2020

Astronomical Sketching: A Step-by-Step Introduction by Richard Handy, David B. Moody, Jeremy Perez, Erika Rix and Sol Robbins

This month we have a guest review by our member Sherry Campbell. Read on!

I was pleased to review this book from our library and at 195 pages and mostly pictures, it did not seem very daunting. I can say that after reading through the book, I came away thinking that this is indeed a very valuable resource and mostly well put together.

Why sketch in this day and age when there are numerous astrophotographs of everything you may see and so many talented people (many of whom are members of our local club) that can produce amazing detail and stunning photographs? The answer is written in the preface of this book. We sketch for many reasons; insufficient time/resources to produce these photos on our own, a feeling of connection to the night sky when we spend the time drawing an object, or training the eye to detect subtle detail.

The book is divided into 7 chapters. Each one focuses on techniques to help you sketch the Moon, comets, the Sun, planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. There are also 3 appendices that list online resources (although seeing that this book was published in 2007, some of the online references may not be valid anymore), some drawing templates and a much needed glossary. Being an artist, I already knew the tools used to obtain these drawings, but for someone that is not familiar with the tools artists use, the glossary has helpful descriptions (and even comes with more pictures!). Although I feel the Saturn drawing template to be useless as the tilt of the rings change, there are Saturn drawing templates that can be found online. In fact, here is a link for many drawing templates, provided by one of the authors:

Each chapter walks the reader through step by step on how to create realistic, accurate representations of what you see in the eyepiece. At the beginning of each chapter, the authors list the tools required to complete the drawings, give simple, easy to read instructions on how to complete each phase of the drawing and also provide pictures of each step. Some chapters, like the Moon for example, detail step by step instructions on drawing the Moon using different mediums, such as pencil, charcoal, stippling with pens and white chalk on black paper.

One of the major points to sketching that is not made obvious to the reader is the amount of time one must spend at the eyepiece to achieve this level of detail. While that may be fine for deep sky objects, when sketching a crater on the Moon, the shadows and highlights will change quickly over time. The authors do mention to rough in the details of the crater before fine tuning, but they also say that one should expect to spend an hour on each sketch. Given the amount of detail for the Moon crater done in charcoal, more than an hour would be spent on that sketch until you became very proficient.

I felt that there should have been a chapter at the beginning of the book detailing the tips and techniques discussed in the book. There are 2 sections for tips, but the first one that talks about some of the materials required and how to create accurate drawings, does not appear in the book until page 39, and the second one on drawings techniques and how to use some of the tools described in the book, does not appear until page 153. Each of these tips sections are imbedded in their respective chapters on drawing comets and nebulae, instead of being given their own chapter. In fact, a tips and techniques chapter could have been expanded to show the reader how to use some of the more obscure mediums, such as Conté chalk pencils, charcoal and fixatives.

One of the features of the book that I do like is the pictures showing each step. If you do not feel comfortable drawing at the eyepiece quite yet, you can practice drawing in the comfort of your home and follow along with the step by step instructions. All of the accompanying photos are large and detailed enough that you can easily see the next step and develop your techniques before trying the real thing.

In summary, I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in getting into sketching at the eyepiece. Even though I have been sketching for years, I will probably be picking up a copy of this book for myself. As well as showing me some new techniques for solar sketches, it takes the guess work out of what paper to buy for each application and what tools work best on that paper type.

Happy sketching!

Sherry Campbell

This book will be available at the conclusion of the January 13th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.


Book of the Month December 2019

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dave Sobel and Neil Armstrong (Foreword) 

Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that “the longitude problem” was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day—and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution.

The scientific establishment of Europe—from Galileo to Sir Issac Newton—had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution—a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. Longitude is a dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and Harrison’s forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clock-making, and opens a new window on our world.
This book will be available at the conclusion of the December 9th RASC meeting.  The Lamplighter Library is just off the main entrance to the Zeidler Dome and is open before and after our meetings.

Berta Beltran