Astronomy:A Beginner's Guide to the Universe

Eric Chaisson / Steve McMillan  
Total pages
March 2006
Related Titles


For one-semester Introduction to Astronomy courses.

The authors incorporate three themes in the briefer of their two textbooks; process of science (how we know what we know), the size and scale of the universe as well as the evolution of the universe. A Beginner's Guide emphasizes critical thinking and visualization, and a leading-edge technology program.


What do you want your students to remember about this course 5 years from now?

  • The fifth edition has an increased emphasis on discovery and the process of science in the text narrative.
  • Discovery Boxes cover interesting topics and highlight how a discovery was made, further emphasizing the "process of science".

Is spectroscopy difficult for your students?

  • Section 2.5 provides a clear explanation accompanied by a sequence of four illustrations to help students better understand the relationships between the three types of spectra.
  • To reinforce the connection between wavelength and radiation properties, every photo in the text is accompanied by a Spectrum Icon which identifies the wavelength that the photo was taken.

What role does the text play in your course?

  • Because Astronomy uses numbers (2 billion years ago, 4.5 billion kilometers) that are difficult for students to understand, Part Openers are a concise introduction to each part and emphasize the size, scale, and evolution of that portion of the universe. 
  • Each chapter begins with a set of Learning Goals to help students focus their reading.
  • The Chapter Review is organized by the Learning Goals at the beginning of the chapter. Each Chapter Review contains key terms and figures from the chapter.
  • The Concept Check at the end of most chapter Sections has a dual purpose. For students reading the chapter for the first time, these questions serve as a pause to check understanding. For students reviewing the chapter, these conceptual questions are a quick quiz.

 Is there an observational component to your course?

  • From the Norton's Star Atlas and Edumund Scientific Star and Planet Locator to Starry Night planetarium software, Prentice Hall has a complete set of resources for you and your studetns. Please visit for more information.

How are you making your lecture more interactive?

  • The Lecture Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy contain 29 class-tested activities for students to work on in pairs. For more information on the Lecture Tutorials and other resources to add a collaborative element to your course visit .

New to this Edition

  • Streamlining of the art program to provide more direct and accurate representations of astronomical objects, including numerous “visual analogies” connecting the concepts  presented in the text to everyday events and circumstances familiar to the reader.
  • Restructuring of the text to further emphasize the process of science and explain how astronomers “know what they know.”
  • Expansion of the More Precisely boxes wherever possible to contain worked examples.
  • Reworking of the end-of-chapter summaries to tie them directly to the learning goals, and linking them to key figures in the chapter
  • Reorganization of the Self-Test section at the end of each chapter to include 7-8 Multiple Choice questions, two of them tied to the comprehension of figures in the text.
  • Expanded material in Chapter 3 on interferometry and the latest developments in telescope design, and new coverage of the Spitzer mission.
  • Updates in Chapter 4 on the Stardust and Deep Impact missions, along with expanded material on observations of extrasolar planets and their implications for competing  theories of planet formation.
  • New coverage in Chapters 4 and 8 of Sedna, 2003UB3113, and Pluto’s planetary status.
  • Greatly expanded discussion in Chapter 6 of recent missions to Mars and their most important findings, particularly in relation to the evolution of the Martian climate.
  • A final update in Chapter 7 on the Galileo/GEM mission.
  • Coverage in Chapters 7 and 8 of the Cassini mission to Saturn, including the findings of theHuygens probe to Titan.
  • Reorganization of presentation in Chapter 9 on the Sun, and an update on neutrino oscillations.
  • Consistent and up-to-date stellar properties in text and examples throughout Part 3
  • New material in Chapter 11 on competitive accretion and collisions in star formation.
  • Added discussions in Chapter 12 of the evolution of low-mass stars , mass loss in high-mass stars, and the CNO cycle.
  • Substantial update in Chapter 13 of the two most likely explanations for gamma-ray bursts.
  • Special and general theories of relativity have been expanded and are now covered in Chapter 13.
  • Latest results in Chapter 14 on Sgr A* and the Galaxy’s central black hole.
  • Updates and reorganization in Chapter 15, further emphasizing the connection between normal and active galaxies.
  • Substantial reorganization of the discussions in Chapter 16 of black holes and galaxy evolution, and the large-scale structure of the universe.
  • Introduction of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey as a primary research tool for astronomers.
  • Revision of the cosmological discussion in Chapter 17 to emphasize the importance of geometry and curvature in the universe, and of the Big Bang and inflation as testable theories.
  • Updated coverage of Europa, Mars, and extremophilic life in Chapter 18.
  • An expanded Glossary which now includes over 300 additional terms used in the text, but not identified explicitly as keywords.
  • New detailed Seasonal Star Charts, courtesy of Astronomy Magazine.

Table of Contents

Exploring the Heavens: Introduction
1. The Copernican Revolution: The Birth of Modern Science
2. Light and Matter: The Inner Workings of the Cosmos
3. Telescopes: The Tools of Astronomy
4. The Solar System: Interplanetary Matter and the Birth of the Planets
5. Earth and Its Moon: Our Cosmic Backyard
6. The Terrestrial Planets: A Study in Contrasts
7. The Jovian Planets: Giants of the Solar System
8. Moons, Rings, and Pluto: Small Worlds Among Giants
9. The Sun: Our Parent Star
10. Measuring the Stars: Giants, Dwarfs, and the Main Sequence
11. The Interstellar Medium: Star Formation in the Milky Way 12 Stellar Evolution: The Lives and Deaths of Stars
13. Neutron Stars and Black Holes: Strange States of Matter
14. The Milky Way Galaxy: A Grand Design
15. Normal and Active Galaxies: Building Blocks of the Universe
16. Hubble’s Law and Dark Matter: The Large-Scale Structure of the Cosmos
17. Cosmology: The Big Bang and the Fate of the Universe
18. Life in the Universe: Are We Alone?

Back Cover

Astronomy Today 4/e (ISBN 0-13-091542-4) is the more comprehensive text by this: proven team of authors. This twenty-eight chapter text begins with the foundations of the history of science and physics as they relate to astronomy (Part One), then proceeds with an "Earth-out" organization for coverage of the solar system (Part Two), stars and stellar evolution (Part Three), and galaxies and cosmology (Part Four). New with the fourth edition, the book is now available in two paperback splits:

Astronomy Today 4/e: The Solar System (ISBN 0-13-093560-3) covers Part One on foundations (Chapters 1-$); Part Two on the solar system (Chapters 6-15); the Sun chapter (Chapter 16); and the final chapter on life in the universe (Chapter 28).

Astronomy Today 4/e: Stars and Galaxies (ISBN 0-13-093571-9) includes Part One on foundations (Chapters 1-S); Part Three on stars and stellar evolution (Chapters 16-22); and Part Four on galaxies and cosmology (Chapters 23-28).

Astronomy: A Beginner's Guide to the Universe 4/e (ISBN 0-13-100727-0) is the authors' briefer text. It covers the same scope of material in the same order as Astronomy Today 4/e, but with less detail and in fewer chapters (eighteen instead of twenty-eight) and fewer pages.


Eric Chaisson. Eric holds a doctorate in astrophysics from Harvard University, where he spent ten years on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. For five years, Eric was a Senior Scientist and Director of Educational Programs at the Space Telescope Science Institute and Adjunct Professor of Physics at Johns Hopkins University. He then joined Tufts University, where he is now Professor of Physics, Professor of Education, and Director of the Wright Center for Innovative Science Education. He has written nine books on astronomy, which have received such literary awards as the Phi Beta Kappa Prize, two American Institute of Physics Awards, and Harvard's Smith-Weld Prize for Literary Merit. He has published more than 100 scientific papers in professional journals, and has also received Harvard's Bok Prize for original contributions to astrophysics.

Steve McMillan. Steve holds a bachelor's and master's degree in Mathematics from Cambridge University and a doctorate in Astronomy from Harvard University. He held post-doctoral positions at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University, where he continued his research in theoretical astrophysics, star clusters, and numerical modeling. Steve is currently Distinguished Professor of Physics at Drexel University and a frequent visiting researcher at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study and the University of Tokyo. He has published more than 50 scientific papers in professional journals.