Help me find a good astronomy textbook!
August 9, 2007 8:32 AM   Subscribe

I've recently become more and more interested in Astronomy, and I'm hoping someone can point me in the direction of a solid university-level Astronomy textbook, something an undergraduate student studying Astronomy would be expected to read.

I enjoy reading astronomy blogs, watching the documentaries, and so on, but I'm looking to take a leap with my personal education on the matter.

I'm looking to go beyond the simple "here's pictures of space" astronomy books you find in local bookstores, and into an in depth study of the field.

I'm hoping some of you great MeFi-ites out there can help me out!

posted by smitt to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: General astronomy:
'An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics', B. W. Carroll, D. A.
Ostlie (Addison-Wesley)
'Introductory Astronomy &Astrophysics', M. Zeilik and S.A.
are the two books I used.

More cosmological stuff:
'An Introduction to Modern Cosmology', A. R. Liddle (Wiley,
New York)
and the two chunkier tomes which are maybe go beyond undergraduate
'Cosmological Physics', J. A. Peacock (Cambridge University
'Principles of Physical Cosmology', P. J. E. Peebles (Princeton
University Press)

I lifted those directly from my undergraduate reading list. Served me well, and several of them still do serve me well.
posted by edd at 8:49 AM on August 9, 2007

Two good books. IIRC, Cosmos is aimed at a less advanced audience than From the Earth to the Universe, which is a standard text for first year college astro majors.

disclaimer: Jay Pasachoff was my undergraduate advisor and continues to be a frequent collaborator. That might bias my opinion of his work, but these books are nonetheless well-known, oft-used, and should be easy to find if you want to buy them.

On Preview: All three of the cosmology books edd mentions are on my bookshelf right now. Good books, to be sure, but probably not the best starting point for someone who is just getting interested, especially if you don't have a strong physics background.
posted by dseaton at 8:57 AM on August 9, 2007

Well yes, I'd definitely start with the two more general ones. The cosmology ones are heavier going (although I recall the Liddle one being an easier run in of the three).

I should also point out that my astronomy courses were relatively late in the course of my physics degree, rather than in the first year, so the reading list may have been skewed more with that in mind.
posted by edd at 9:13 AM on August 9, 2007

Response by poster: I took, and did well, in high school advanced physics here in Ontario, so I have a bit of physics background that should help me.
I just happened to major in English instead, heheh.
posted by smitt at 9:13 AM on August 9, 2007

Best answer: how much maths/physics do you know?

if you want a "serious" book, but not too heavy on the maths/physics (ie intro undergrad) my partner (astronomy prof) recommends kaufmann's the universe.

personally, i liked shu's the physical universe, but that may be a bit old now. it was an excellent book, imho (i have an astronomy phd, but never took any introductory astro courses, so used shu for simple background - very simple, clear).
posted by andrew cooke at 9:16 AM on August 9, 2007

and she recommends carrol and ostlie (above) if you know some maths/physics.

more specific stuff: peebles and peacock are already mentioned above. longair is good for high energy stuff.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:19 AM on August 9, 2007

Universe (Kaufmann and Freedman) shows up on the reading list I had as well actually, but I didn't know the book personally. Sounds like a good choice.
posted by edd at 9:25 AM on August 9, 2007

My college astronomy textbook was by Mike Seeds. Good for the generalist -- check out his other work as well. I believe that he used to do astronomy spots for one of the national morning shows, and made the subject accessible and interesting.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:28 AM on August 9, 2007

personally, i liked shu's the physical universe, but that may be a bit old now. it was an excellent book, imho (i have an astronomy phd, but never took any introductory astro courses, so used shu for simple background - very simple, clear).

Wow, someone else mentioning Shu!

That was my text in the first astrophysics class I took. It is still on my shelf and I still occasionally page through it. It's well written, focuses on concepts but also has these great mathematical sidebars which take you in as deep as you want. Not only that - in the first few chapters he teaches you all the relativity and quantum physics you need to know too!

Why that book hasn't been revised I do not know...Reading the Amazon comments, I can see I'm not the only one who regards this book so highly.
posted by vacapinta at 9:41 AM on August 9, 2007

Liddle is not so hard that it would be completely inaccessible, but it still would probably make sense to start with a broader overview first. If you want a broad survey of cosmology aimed at the interested, but casual, reader, both of Hawking's books on the subject are good.

They are A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell.
posted by dseaton at 9:52 AM on August 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! This should definitely get me going.
posted by smitt at 10:13 AM on August 9, 2007

Hmm, nobody mentioned Kutner's Astronomy: A Physical Perspective. I think he gives better qualitative explanations than some of the others. There isn't as much math as I would like, but there's still enough to understand the fundamental aspects of a problem, without worrying about all the little details that you would need for an exact answer. It's also reasonably up to date.

Shu is great for the explanations too (although quite out of date in some areas), but the problem sets are the best part. There are good graduate-level problems in the book, so you might not find them too helpful just starting out.

Carroll and Ostlie is what I use the most, just because it's loaded with equations and derivations. But it's really aimed at upper-division astronomy undergrads. And it's huge and expensive compared to Kutner (for the new edition).
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:23 PM on August 9, 2007

Best answer: Not a book, but might be in the direction you're looking -- UC Berkeley has a bunch of audio/video streams of course lectures up on their website, including Introduction to General Astronomy.

There's a bunch more for astronomy and other courses; you can also watch them for different semesters. One of the best courses that i've seen is their "Physics for Future Presidents" course. It goes into a bit of astronomy as well.
posted by joquarky at 1:40 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That Intro to Gen. Astronomy series of lectures looks awesome joquarky, I'll definitely be putting those onto my iPod for the train ride to work every day!
posted by smitt at 2:04 PM on August 9, 2007

Look on iTunes podcasts for Astronomy161 and Astronomy162.
posted by veedubya at 2:59 PM on August 9, 2007

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