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Astronomy: Journey to Cosmic Frontier, 6/e

John D. Fix, University of Alabama in Huntsville

ISBN: 0073512184
Copyright year: 2011

Book Preface

As James Van Allen writes in his foreword to this book, astronomy permeates our culture. Of all the sciences, astronomy is the one that generates the most public interest. There are hundreds of thousands of amateur astronomers, two monthly astronomy magazines with healthy circulation, and television specials about important astronomical discoveries. The Spirit and Opportunity landings on Mars in early 2004 got headline coverage in newspapers and images and other results from the rovers were featured on evening newscasts for weeks. Part of the public interest in astronomy is surely due to the dramatic scope of the science. Part, I am sure, is because nonprofessionals not only can understand astronomical discoveries but also can make some of those discoveries. Amateur astronomers regularly carry out important astronomical observations, often with telescopes they have made themselves.

The Goals of Astronomy: Journey to the Cosmic Frontier

I wrote this book as a text for an introductory course in astronomy for college students. I have taught such a course for many years at the University of Iowa and the University of Alabama in Huntsville. One of my main goals for those courses, and one of my main goals in this book, is to provide my students with a broad enough, deep enough background in astronomy that they will be able to follow current developments years after they finish my course. This book is current with recent developments such as the cosmological discoveries of the WMAP satellite and the results from the Mars rovers. But I want my students to continue to learn about astronomy long after these discoveries have been succeeded by newer, even more exciting, ones. I hope that years from now my students, and the readers of this book, will be able to read and watch stories about astronomy with confidence that they know what is going on and why the story is important. I can guarantee that future astronomical discoveries will occur at least as often as they do today, and I want my students to be prepared to enjoy future discoveries.

I hope that all the explanations and descriptions in the book will not obscure the awe and sense of wonder that all astronomers feel when they pause in their work and think about the beauty of the universe. People have felt that awe since prehistory and our wonderment has increased as we understand more about the order and underlying structure of the universe. If this book helps its readers to value both the sheer beauty of planets, stars, and galaxies and the equally beautiful principles that organize the universe, it will be a success.

I would be grateful for any suggestions and advice for improving this book. If you have any ideas to offer, please contact me at the Department of Physics, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama, 35899, or by e-mail at

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