Cosmic Perspective Fundamentals, The

Jeffrey O. Bennett / Megan O Donahue / Nicholas Schneider / Mark Voit  
Total pages
February 2019

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Cosmic Perspective Fundamentals, The

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For one-semester courses in introductory astronomy.

A brief path through astronomy that helps students gain an appreciation for astronomy and discovery in science

The Cosmic Perspective Fundamentals is the briefest introduction to astronomy in the Bennett series and supports instructors using an active or collaborative approach to teaching. By focusing on the process of science and fundamental concepts of astronomy, The Cosmic Perspective Fundamentals allows time for the use of other instructional tools in the course. Each concisely written chapter is formatted into two main sections followed by a Process of Science section, making learning targeted and expectations clear for students.


The 3rd Edition of The Cosmic Perspective Fundamentals features major scientific updates, new content that focuses on the possibility of life in the universe, and recent discoveries that provide modern contexts to help students see the relevance of astronomy to their worlds. The authors write and create a wealth of Mastering Astronomy resources that include a new Pearson eText, Dynamic Study Modules, and Interactive PreLecture videos that students can use before, during, and after class, including pre-built assignments that instructors can edit to fit the way they teach.

Also available with Mastering Astronomy

Mastering™ is the teaching and learning platform that empowers you to reach every student. By combining trusted author content with digital tools developed to engage students and emulate the office-hour experience, Mastering personalizes learning and improves results for each student. Resources in Mastering Astronomy are written and carefully reviewed by the author team, establishing the same coherent and trusted voice as the book. Learn more about Mastering Astronomy.


Hallmark features of this title

  • The learning framework starts each chapter with an opening-page brief overview of the chapter content and a clear set of Learning Goals. Each Learning Goal is phrased as a question to engage students.
  • Tools of Science boxes present a brief overview of key tools that astronomers use, including theories, equations, observational techniques, and technology.
  • Think About It and See It For Yourself questions and activities are designed to foster active learning, reinforcing understanding as the student proceeds.
  • Common Misconceptions boxes address popularly held but incorrect ideas about topics in the text.
  • Cosmic Context Figures combine text and illustrations into accessible and coherent 2-page visual summaries to improve student understanding of essential topics.

New to this Edition

New and updated features of this title

  • The learning framework for each chapter consists of 3 sections: the first 2 focus on the key topics; the third section builds on the ideas from the first 2 sections with a focus on The Process of Science in Action. Each section addresses the Learning Goal questions, concludes with a visual summary that provides answers to the Learning Goal questions, and each chapter summary is followed by a 12-question Quick Quiz and a set of short-answer, essay, and quantitative questions.
  • Material from Mission Juno the first mission to Jupiter is integrated into the text.
  • Material on the planets and life in the universe based on the Cassini mission to Saturn’s rings and the discovery of an ocean on Enceladus is integrated into the text.
  • Material on recently confirmed gravitational waves is integrated into the text.
  • REVISED: Dark Matter chapter reflects recent discoveries and new constraints in what might be.
  • REVISED: Life in the Universe Chapter includes exoplanet discoveries, breakthrough initiatives in the search for life in the universe, and the proposed mini-spacecraft fleet to Alpha Centauri.

Table of Contents

Brief Contents

  1. A Modern View of the Universe
  2. Understanding the Sky
  3. Changes in Our Perspective
  4. Origin of the Solar System
  5. Terrestrial Worlds
  6. The Outer Solar System
  7. Planets Around Other Stars
  8. The Sun and Other Stars
  9. Stellar Lives
  10. The Bizarre Stellar Graveyard
  11. Galaxies
  12. Galaxy Distances and Hubble's Law
  13. The Birth of the Universe
  14. Dark Matter and Dark Energy
  15. Life in the Universe


About our authors

Jeffrey Bennett, a recipient of the American Institute of Physics Science Communication Award, holds a B.A. in biophysics (UC San Diego) and an M.S. and Ph.D. in astrophysics (University of Colorado). He specializes in science and math education and has taught at every level from preschool through graduate school. Career highlights include serving 2 years as a visiting senior scientist at NASA headquarters, where he developed programs to build stronger links between research and education, proposing and helping to develop the Voyage scale model solar system on the National Mall (Washington, DC) and developing the free app Totality by Big Kid Science to help people learn about total solar eclipses. He is the lead author oftextbooks in astronomy, astrobiology, mathematics, and statistics and of critically acclaimed books for the public including Beyond UFOs (Princeton University Press), Math for Life (Bid Kid Science), What Is Relativity? (Columbia University Press), On Teaching Science (Big Kid Science), and A Global Warming Primer (Big Kid Science). He is also the author of six science picture books for children, titled Max Goes to Mars, Max Goes to Jupiter, Max Goes to the Space Station, Max Goes to the Moon, The Wizard Who Saved the World, and I, Humanity; all six have been launched to the International Space Station and read aloud by astronauts for NASA’s Story Time From Space program. His personal website is

Megan Donahue is a full professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Michigan State University (MSU), a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and President of the American Astronomical Society (2018–2020). Her research focuses on using x-ray, UV, infrared, and visible light to study galaxies and clusters of galaxies: their contents—dark matter, hot gas, galaxies, active galactic nuclei—and what they reveal about the contents of the universe and how galaxies form and evolve. She grew up on a farm in Nebraska and received an S.B. in physics from MIT, where she began her research career as an x-ray astronomer. She has a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Colorado. Her Ph.D. thesis on theory and optical observations of intergalactic and intracluster gas won the1993 Robert Trumpler Award from the Astronomical Society for the Pacific for an outstanding astrophysics doctoral dissertation in North America. She continued postdoctoral research as a Carnegie Fellow at Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, California, and later as an STScI Institute Fellow at Space Telescope. Megan was a staff astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute until 2003, when she joined the MSU faculty. She is also actively involved in advising national and international astronomical facilities and NASA, including planning future NASA missions. Megan is married to Mark Voit, and they collaborate on many projects, including this textbook, over 70 peer reviewed astrophysics papers, and the nurturing of their children, Michaela, Sebastian, and Angela. Megan has run three full marathons, including Boston. These days she runs trails with friends, orienteers, and plays piano and bass guitar for fun and no profit.

Nicholas Schneider is a full professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado and a researcher in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. He received his B.A. in physics and astronomy from Dartmouth College in 1979and his Ph.D. in planetary science from the University of Arizona in 1988. His research interests include planetary atmospheres and planetary astronomy. One research focus is the odd case of Jupiter’s moon Io. Another is the mystery of Mars’s lost atmosphere, which he is helping to answer by leading the Imaging UV Spectrograph team on NASA’s MAVEN mission now orbiting Mars. Nick enjoys teaching at all levels and is active in efforts to improve undergraduate astronomy education. Over his career he has received the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award, the Boulder Faculty Assembly’s Teaching Excellence Award, and NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal. Off the job, Nick enjoys exploring the outdoors with his family and figuring out how things work.

Mark Voit is a full professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at Michigan State University. He earned his A.B. in astrophysical sciences at Princeton University and his Ph.D. in astrophysics at the University of Colorado in 1990. He continued his studies at the California Institute of Technology, where he was a research fellow in theoretical astrophysics, and then moved on to Johns Hopkins University as a Hubble Fellow. Before going to Michigan State, Mark worked in the Office of Public Outreach at the Space Telescope, where he developed museum exhibitions about the Hubble Space Telescope and helped design NASA’s award-winning Hubble Site. His research interests range from interstellar processes in our own galaxy to the clustering of galaxies in the early universe, and he is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is married to coauthor Megan Donahue and cooks terrific meals for her and their three children. Mark likes getting outdoors whenever possible and particularly enjoys running, mountain biking, canoeing, orienteering, and adventure racing. He is also author of the popular book Hubble Space Telescope: New Views of the Universe.