Introduction to Stars and Planets

Introduction to Stars and Planets

An activities-based exploration

Alan Hirshfeld


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How do astronomers know what they know about the stars and planets? That is the question behind today’s rapid pace of cosmic discovery, for every new finding rests upon a centuries-long foundation of astronomical practice. Introduction to Stars and Planets: An activities-based exploration reveals the methods by which Earthbound observers have deduced the physical attributes of celestial bodies, whether situated within our solar neighborhood or at the far ends of the galaxy. The book’s 28 mildly mathematical activities invite readers to carry out the essential work of the astronomer by utilizing real observational data sets and high-quality celestial photographs to establish the innate properties of a range of cosmic systems. Taken in sequence, these activities illustrate the epic advancement of stellar and planetary astronomy over the past century, up to the present day.

Key Features

  • Wide-ranging topical coverage of both historical and up-to-the-minute aspects of astronomical discovery
  • Uses a learning-by-doing approach
  • Structured, goal-oriented framework centered on the methods and physical principles by which astronomers study the universe
  • Provides real-time educational feedback to students
  • Introduces elementary mathematics for students to gain a truer sense of the work astronomers do

An excellent primer for early-years undergraduates, this book contains a large number of short chapters on the Sun, stars, and planets, each followed by a number of exercises in the form of worksheets for the student. It could reasonably be used by individual students (especially in the current covid crisis) or by teachers to supplement their lessons.

The Observatory, Vol. 141 2021 June


Alan Hirshfeld:

Alan Hirshfeld, Professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is Chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Historical Astronomy Division and a longtime Associate of the Harvard College Observatory. He is the author of Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos; The Electric Life of Michael Faraday; Eureka Man: The Life and Legacy of Archimedes; Astronomy Activity and Laboratory Manual; and Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered  the  Modern Universe. He is a regular book reviewer for The Wall Street Journal and writes and lectures frequently on science history and discovery. Visit the author’s website at