Best Astronomy and Astrophysics Books
The Veil Nebula, in the constellation Cygnus, is one of the most massive and brilliant features in the x-ray sky.
Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team

The universe through the eyes of an astronomer or astrophysicist is a fascinating place — and a good book can give you a glimpse of that world without requiring years of study. Here are the Space.com writers' and editors' recommendations of astronomy and astrophysics books that will thrill, puzzle, intrigue and blow your mind.

(We are constantly reading new and classic space books to find our favorite takes on the universe. Our recently-read books in all categories can be found at Best Space Books. You can see our ongoing Space Books coverage here.)

 

By Lucas Ellerbroek, translated by Andy Brown

"Planet Hunters: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life" by Lucas Ellerbroek
"Planet Hunters: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life" by Lucas Ellerbroek
Credit: Reaktion Books

"Planet Hunters" takes readers through the history of the search for worlds around other suns  — from heretical belief to science fiction flight of fancy to one of the fastest-growing fields of astronomical research. Author Lucas Ellerbroek highlights the passion of exoplanet researchers as they learn about the countless planets circling other stars.

"I really want to bring across the message that science is something not to be read purely in an encyclopedia, because encyclopedias change, and science is a dynamic enterprise done by humans," Ellerbroek says of the book. ~Sarah Lewin

Read an interview with the author here.

 

By Tyler Nordgren

"Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets" (Basic Books, 2016) by Tyler Nordgren.
"Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets" (Basic Books, 2016) by Tyler Nordgren.
Credit: Basic Books

Throughout history, solar eclipses have transformed from terrifying omens to the subject of scientific study. In "Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets," astronomer-artist Tyler Nordgren traces the natural history of eclipses and how they have inspired eclipse chasers to travel the world and witness the natural phenomenon.

Nordgren's narrative also details how observations of total solar eclipses have contributed to scientific discoveries about the sun, moon and Earth's place in the universe throughout history. ~ Samantha Mathewson

Read an interview with the book's author here

 

By Michael Summers and James Trefil

"Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets and the New Search for Life Beyond Our Solar System" (Smithsonian Books, 2017) by Michael Summers and James Trefil
"Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets and the New Search for Life Beyond Our Solar System" (Smithsonian Books, 2017) by Michael Summers and James Trefil
Credit: Ron Miller/Jody Billert

The search for planets beyond Earth's solar system has revealed countless surprises, including the existence of strange and unexpected worlds that astronomers would have never imagined existed only a few decades ago. A new book titled "Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets and the New Search for Life Beyond Our Solar System" (Smithsonian Books, 2017) explores the history of exoplanet research, illustrates the many different types of planets that have been discovered to date and discusses how astronomers plan to further study these newfound alien worlds. ~Samantha Mathewson

You can read an interview with the authors here.

 

By Carrie Nugent

"Asteroid Hunters" (Simon & Schuster, 2017) by Carrie Nugent.
"Asteroid Hunters" (Simon & Schuster, 2017) by Carrie Nugent.
Credit: Simon & Schuster

The solar system is a wild place, and even Earth's immediate neighborhood is much more chaotic than maps would suggest — researchers discover more than 100 near-Earth asteroids every month. A new book by Carrie Nugent, an asteroid researcher from Caltech, goes through how we find asteroids and near-Earth objects and what we would do if one was heading toward us. "Asteriod Hunters" (Simon & Schuster, 2017) is a quick overview of the growing field, giving a feel for how science is done and where we'll have to pick up speed to protect Earth — plus, a visceral understanding of exactly how much risk is out there. ~Sarah Lewin

Read an interview with Nugent on the book and the latest in asteroid hunting here.

 

By David Grinspoon

"Earth in Human Hands" (Grand Central Publishing, 2016) by David Grinspoon
"Earth in Human Hands" (Grand Central Publishing, 2016) by David Grinspoon
Credit: Grand Central Publishing

Over the past century, humankind's influence over our environment has increased dramatically. Astrobiologist and planetary scientist David Grinspoon argues that our species is arriving at a point that lifeforms across the galaxy may face — become self-sustaining or perish. In "Earth in Human Hands," Grinspoon explores the ways that, for good or bad, humans have seized control of the planet. The choice is whether we do so mindlessly, or whether we act in a responsible, considerate manner. Such a dilemma may be common to all life, and the most successful, long-lasting civilizations in the galaxy may live on planets they have engineered to be stable over extensive periods of time, making them more difficult to identify than rapidly-expanding societies. ~Nola Redd

You can read an interview with Grinspoon (and watch video clips of him discussing the book with Space.com) here.

 

by Terence Dickinson

"NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe," Revised Fourth Edition, by Terence Dickinson
"NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe," Revised Fourth Edition, by Terence Dickinson
Credit: Firefly Books

"NightWatch" is the perfect introduction to astronomy and stargazing. It has been the top-selling stargazing guide for over 20 years. Now in its revised fourth edition, the book contains everything you need to know about what's up in the sky through the year 2025. The bookre chapter is dedicated to stargazing technology, like binoculars and telescopes. "NightWatch" assumes that the reader has no prior experience with astronomy. It is clear and concise enough for any beginner to understand, but is pac is filled with star charts, tables with information about stargazing events and incredible photos of space. An entiked with information that even the most experienced stargazers will find comes in handy. ~Hanneke Weitering

Watch our gift guide video about the book here.

Buy NightWatch on Amazon.com.

 

By Dava Sobel

"The Glass Universe" follows the women of the Harvard College Observatory and their groundbreaking measurements of the stars.
"The Glass Universe" follows the women of the Harvard College Observatory and their groundbreaking measurements of the stars.
Credit: Viking

"The Glass Universe" highlights the remarkable story of how a group of women, called "computers," shaped the field of astronomy during the mid-19th century — when women were not typically employed outside the home. At that time, astronomers relied on grounded telescopes to record nightly observations of the stars. Women computers at the Harvard College Ovesrvatory were then tasked with interpreting those observations, captured on photographic glass plates. Author Dava Sobel follows the stories of several women, which she collected from old diaries, letters and published observatory log books. Based on their calculations, these women — including Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Henrietta Leavitt, Annie Jump Cannon and Cecilia Payne — made some of the most fundamental discoveries of our universe. ~Samantha Mathewson

Read a Q&A with Sobel about the book here.

 

By Dean Regas

"Facts From Space!" by Dean Regas
"Facts From Space!" by Dean Regas
Credit: Adams Media, 2016

For any space fan looking to learn crazy, fun facts about the universe, "Facts From Space!" is a great place to start. Dean Regas, an astronomer and public outreach educator for the Cincinnati Observatory, has gathered together all the cool, quirky and mind-blowing facts you probably never knew you'd want to know about the universe. Regas chronicles everything from the sometimes silly adventures of space travelers in Earth's orbit and on the moon to black holes, galaxies and nebulas far away in deep space, listing all the best facts about the universe in a way that is fun and easy to read. Readers of all ages can understand and appreciate the contents of this book. No attention span is necessary to enjoy it — flip to any page and you'll find a handful of short facts and cartoons that make learning about space a simple and entertaining experience. ~Hanneke Weitering

Space.com spoke with Dean Regas about making "Facts From Space!" exciting and accessible here.

 

By George Musser

"Spooky Action at a Distance" by George Musser
"Spooky Action at a Distance" by George Musser
Credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Space and time are weird. Human understanding of the universe relies on space and time separating things — one object cannot affect another unless they're touching, or unless object A sends an intermediary out to touch object B, like a photon bouncing off of something and into your eye. All very straightforward, and good for scientific investigation.

But the problem is, there are hints that nature doesn't actually work that way. This new book by science writer George Musser delves into the different ways that scientists are grappling with this concept of "nonlocality" — what Albert Einstein famously called "spooky action at a distance" in the quantum mechanics world. Particles that are entangled affect each other instantaneously even when separated; paradoxical black holes can be explained if the stuff sucked in exists inside their gravitational pull and on the surface at the same time. Musser explores the history of humans grappling with nonlocality and what these strange effects are teaching quantum mechanics researchers, astronomers, cosmologists and more about how the universe works — and while doing so, showing the messy, nonlinear and fascinating way researchers push forward to understand the physical world. ~Sarah Lewin

Read a Q&A with George Musser about his new book and the nature of reality here.

 

By Kip Thorne

"Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy" by Kip Thorne.
"Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy" by Kip Thorne.
Credit: W.W. Norton & Company

Theoretical astrophysicist Kip Thorne has spent his career exploring topics that once seemed relegated to science fiction, such as whether time travel is possible, and how humans could potentially travel from galaxy to galaxy via wormholes. In "Black Holes and Time Warps," Thorne provides an introduction to these and other mind-bending topics, at a level appropriate for nonscientists. The book is not a light read — it goes deeper into the science than many pop physics books — but Thorne is the perfect person to take readers on this journey: He's a patient and entertaining teacher, and he never loses the thread of the story. On top of the science lessons, Thorne introduces a cast of characters who pushed these fields forward, and chronicles the fight by American and Russian physicists to continue scientific collaboration during the Cold War. (Twenty years after its publication, Thorne talked with Space.com about the new science he would add to the book.) ~Calla Cofield

 

By Carl Sagan

"Cosmos" by Carl Sagan.
"Cosmos" by Carl Sagan.
Credit: Random House

"Cosmos," by famed astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan, is a deep dive into the history of science, philosophy and the universe. The book acts as a partner with Sagan's beloved 1980s TV show, "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage." This book is a beautiful glimpse inside one of the greatest scientific minds in history. While some of it may seem dated, the book still stands up as one of the best popular science books ever written, and the language is just beautiful. ~Miriam Kramer

 

By Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

"The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan.
"The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan.
Credit: Ballantine Books

Sagan was one of the 20th century's greatest ambassadors and popularizers of science, and he doesn't disappoint in "The Demon-Haunted World." The book explains to laypeople just what science is, and how researchers use the process of scientific inquiry to understand the universe around us. There's a lot of debunking in "The Demon-Haunted World" — of alien encounters, channeling and other paranormal experiences — and Sagan even provides readers a "baloney detection kit" to help them navigate a confusing and chaotic world. Like other Sagan works, this one is a fun and engaging read, but a great deal of ambition lurks beneath the fluid prose, as this quote from the book reveals: "If we can't think for ourselves, if we're unwilling to question authority, then we're just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness." ~Mike Wall

 

By Michio Kaku

"Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension" by Michio Kaku.
"Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension" by Michio Kaku.
Credit: Anchor

Our brains evolved to comprehend the world around us on a local and accessible scale. We're really not equipped to understand the universe as a 10-dimensional entity — and yet "Hyperspace" explains this revolutionary idea in such a lucid and engaging way that it makes a good deal of sense. By the time you're done reading this book, you'll have a pretty solid grasp of why Kaku and other scientists think the basic forces in our universe — electromagnetism, gravity and the strong and weak nuclear forces — may actually just be vibrations in higher-dimensional space. And it's an extremely fun read, too, with excursions into such sexy topics as parallel universes, time travel and wormholes. For example, did you know that you might be able to create a wormhole in your own kitchen using just an ice cube and a pressure cooker? All you have to do is figure out a way to heat the ice cube up to a temperature of 1032 degrees Kelvin. ~Mike Wall

We're adding to these lists all the time; let us know your favorites in the comments below!

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