Writing About Astronomy

Is a Waltz with the Cosmos

For a couple of months late in 2012 and early 2013, I was nose-to-the-grindstone busy working on a new book about astronomy. It’s called Astronomy 101From the Sun and Moon to Wormholes and Warp Drive, Key Theories, Discoveries, and Facts about the Universe, and I was invited to write it by the publisher, Adams Media. The book is due out in a matter of weeks, and I just got the galleys back to proof.  Galleys comprise the final layout of the book with the images, and they are to writers what a walk-around is to a pilot for a plane. We’re checking out the final product before we let it fly.  I have about a week to read them over, look for any mistakes, and then send a note back to the publishers giving them the go-ahead to put it into print (both paper and electronic).

The publisher had a pretty specific set of topics in mind that they wanted me to cover, although I did get to select many of them. The idea behind the book is NOT to give you a graduate (or even undergraduate) education in astronomy, but to acquaint the reader with astronomy topics in a “getting to know you” kind of way.

You’d think it would be easy to do this. But, actually, working out ways to write “layperson” explanations of black holes and wormholes and solar storms and planetary evolution and stellar birth and death and many, many other topics is fairly complex. And, sandwich it all into a 1,000-1500 words per topic, and you can see the challenge.

At the end of writing the book (I had about a month and a half to do it — that’s life in the publishing lane, folks), I felt as if I’d been waltzing with stars, planets, galaxies, and clusters. I’ve been studying and writing about astronomy for a long time, sometimes in very great depth, and one of  the great joys is bringing complex topics to people and having them really grasp the processes and events that shape our cosmos. I’ve done it for a long time in documentary shows. Doing it for a book that will speak to all levels of reader, and act as their first guide t0 the cosmos is heady.  And so, here I sit, galleys in front of me, ready to dive back in and see how it worked out.  I’ll keep you posted!


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