I rarely read non-fiction, but this book captivated me. The 'book of the acclaimed BBC TV series' written by Professor Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen deals with what it says on the tin - and it captures a lot of very heavy material in the most enthralling way. I got it for Christmas and it is honestly my second-favourite Christmas present ever and one of my most precious possessions (My new iPod just edged it out in terms of functionality and portability, but it's still amazing).
There are four sections to the book - 'Messengers' (Light), Stardust (Stars and Creation of the Universe), Falling (Gravity) and Destiny (Fate of the Universe). It really doesn't pull any punches and suits anyone from an accomplished astronomer to an intelligent/willing preteen without sounding too heavy or, on the other hand, patronising.The book is filled with breathtaking pictures of space as well as beautiful pictures from here on Earth.
The first chapter shows the importance of light, being the only connection we have with everything outside our Universe and discusses its properties, as well as some interesting scientific discoveries about it...and some gratuitous photos of gorgeous landscapes, of course. My favourite part of this chapter had to be this quote
'Two and a half million years ago, when our distant relative Homo habilis was foraging for food across the Tanzanian Savannah, a beam of light left the Andromeda Galaxy and began its journey across the universe. As that light beam raced across space at the speed of light (duh), generations of humans and pre-humans lived and died, whole species evolved and became extinct, until one member of that unbroken lineage, me, happened to gaze up at the sky [...] triggering a cascade of wonder in a complex organ called the human brain that didn't exist anywhere in the Universe when the journey began.'
So we're seeing the Andromeda galaxy as it was 2, 500, 000 years ago. How could something like that not amaze you?
Also discussed is the Hubble Telescope. We can *only* see 2.5 million years ago, to the beginnings of our species with the naked eye. But there is much more than that. The book charts the Hubble's history, with the delays in launch time and a mission to space purely to fix one of its mirrors. Astronauts from the Shuttle Endeavour spent ten days in space - basically giving it glasses. Which I liked a lot, because I have to wear them too! What's been called Hubble's most important image was shown and explained - the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.