The 10 Best Astronomy Books

Updated June 16, 2018 by Gia Vescovi-Chiordi

The Cosmos
Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide
Origins: Fourteen Billion Years
We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. You won't know if you are inspiring an astronaut or a cosmologist if you give someone one of these astronomy books, but you can be certain that you will have provided a thought-provoking and awe-inspiring gift. Our selection includes editions specifically written to appeal to youngsters through to more advanced students, and all of them contain stunning images. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best astronomy book on Amazon.

10. National Geographic Kids Space Encyclopedia

Good for children aged 10 and up, the National Geographic Kids Space Encyclopedia delivers five easy-to-follow and highly-illustrated articles that cover a broad range of topics, including our own solar system, near-Earth objects, and even dark energy.
  • encourages critical thinking
  • educational and well-written
  • the cutaway images are too small
Publisher National Geographic Chi
Model n/a
Weight 2.2 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

9. The Planets

The Planets focuses on the solar system and features gorgeous 3D models created from data contributed by NASA and the ESA. Each photo showcases Earth's neighbors from the surface to the center in compelling visual detail, making it both engaging and entertaining.
  • includes comets and moons too
  • riveting infographics with fun facts
  • not ideal for advanced learners
Publisher DK Publishing Dorling K
Model n/a
Weight 3.7 pounds
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

8. The Cosmos

With more than 200 new high-quality images, including those from space missions and observatories, The Cosmos is an excellent teaching tool for non-science majors. Its redesigned pages include text that reads as a series of stories to keep students fully engaged.
  • integrates discussion questions
  • supports math approaches
  • difficult to follow at times
Publisher Cambridge University Pr
Model n/a
Weight 3.8 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

7. Origins: Fourteen Billion Years

For a basic insight into cosmology, check out Origins: Fourteen Billion Years. It covers complex information in a clear and concise manner with added humor, which makes for a very enjoyable read. It also touches upon planets beyond our solar system.
  • breezy but informed prose
  • tells the history of the universe
  • some topics are repetitive
Publisher W W Norton Company
Model n/a
Weight 12 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

6. 50 Things to See

If you're an astronomy buff with a small telescope, you'll love 50 Things to See. It provides maps and charts that can be used as a reference until 2030 and gives you a glimpse into all that your telescope has to offer, proving that size doesn't matter.
  • solar eclipse schedules
  • available in multiple languages
  • somewhat lacking in detail
Publisher 50 Things to See
Model n/a
Weight 10.4 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

5. Hubble's Universe

Hubble's Universe is regarded as a breathtaking portfolio selection of 300 of this telescope's most stunning photographs from outer space, making it an excellent visual science reference for both students and backyard stargazers alike.
  • well-organized and thoughtful
  • the text is clear and focused
  • captions can be a bit dry
Publisher FIREFLY
Model n/a
Weight 3.8 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

4. Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide

Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide is chock-full of beautiful images of the cosmos, from our own galaxy to the farthest reaches of space. This encyclopedia includes detailed information on cosmology and the fundamentals of physics and chemistry.
  • comprehensive star atlas
  • covers 88 constellations
  • omits a few key events
Publisher DK Publishing Dorling K
Model n/a
Weight 5.9 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

3. NightWatch: A Practical Guide

NightWatch: A Practical Guide is widely-recognized as one of the most popular stargazing books, having sold upwards of 600,000 copies of its 3 prior editions. It comes with a variety of charts, including when to expect a future solar and lunar eclipse.
  • great for those using binoculars
  • helpful telescope purchasing tips
  • sky maps for both hemispheres
Publisher Firefly Books
Model 155407147X
Weight 2.6 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

2. Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle

Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle takes you on a journey through time using the concept of light to illustrate the vastness of the universe. It's a real page-turner, with one stunning photo after another, and will let your imagination run wild.
  • makes connections to human history
  • written in a poetic style
  • informative and thought-provoking
Publisher Harry N. Abrams
Model n/a
Weight 4.8 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

1. The Backyard Astronomer's Guide

The Backyard Astronomer's Guide is a must for any stargazer, whether you're a newbie or an expert. This incredible resource offers in-depth guidance on everything from picking the perfect telescope to evading light pollution, with tips on how best to explore the deep sky.
  • approachable without overwhelming
  • over 500 vibrant photographs
  • detailed atlas of the milky way
Publisher Firefly Books
Model n/a
Weight 3.9 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

One of Many, Many Revolutions

Before Galileo Galilei caught wind of the first telescope, a Dutch invention, and decided to build his own, astronomy, the "law of the stars," was limited to only the celestial bodies that could be perceived with the naked eye. The Earth was believed to be at the center of the solar system and planetary motion was calculated using Babylonian, Greek, and Hellenistic mathematics. Retrograde motions were observed and the geocentric model of the solar system was established.

Nicolaus Copernicus disagreed with the long-standing geocentric model. Using mathematics, Copernicus theorized that the Earth is in fact not at the center of the solar system, the Sun is. Unfortunately, the telescope had yet to be invented and Copernicus was unable to prove his theories correct. He published his findings in his most famous book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, and died having never seen the true fruits of his labors.

Three years after Copernicus' death, Tycho Brahe was born. He read Copernicus' book, but only partially accepted it. While Copernicus asserted that all of the planets, including Earth, revolve around the Sun, Brahe insisted that the Sun revolves around the Earth, despite agreeing that all of the other planets revolve around the Sun. With near-unlimited funds at his disposal and a golden prosthetic nose to highlight the size of his ego, Brahe built an enormous observatory, Uraniborg, the first of its kind, and embarked on a quest to prove his predecessor wrong.

Brahe made daily observations and kept an obsessively detailed record, so detailed that he eventually required an assistant, Johannes Kepler, to help keep track of the mountain of data he was rapidly collecting.

Thanks to Brahe's data, and being the brilliant star that he was, Kepler soon formulated his three laws of planetary motion, each of which supported Brahe's theory that the planets revolve around the Sun while the Sun revolves around the Earth. Alas, a mere eight years before the invention of the telescope would inevitably prove him wrong, Brahe died, his ego intact.

Fascinated by Brahe's data, Kepler's laws, and his very own, newly crafted telescope, Galileo made an amazing observation that no naked eye had ever made or ever could. He discovered that Venus has phases, just like the Moon, a phenomenon that Copernicus' heliocentric model had long since accounted for. He published his findings in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems and was promptly suspected of heresy by the Roman Inquisition.

What happened after, you will no doubt learn about in whichever astronomy book you choose to buy.

The Beauty of Astronomy Books

Quite possibly the simplest and most effortless pastime known to humankind, stargazing has occupied people of all ages, across all continents, for millennia. From shooting stars to evil omens, changes in the night sky have both fascinated and disturbed kings and peasants alike. To this day, the cosmos continues to be the inspiration behind countless theories, stories, dreams, and careers.

Whether it's identifying constellations, peering through a telescope at the Great Red Spot of Jupiter or the craters on the Moon, taking time-lapse photographs of meteor showers, or listening to signals at a radio array, astronomy has something for everyone. All one needs to know is what to look or listen for, where to look or listen, and when.

What makes the cosmos so interesting, though, is not the mere act of observing it, but observing it while knowing how it works and who was the first to discover each object or phenomenon. Who was the first to explain the rings of Saturn? Who was the first to explain why Betelgeuse, the shoulder of Orion, twinkles?

The beauty of astronomy books lies not in their glossy, color photographs, but rather in their ability to place each comet, each moon, each mission to Mars within the context of a grander scheme, a plan to explore and explain the Universe.

Choosing the Best of the Best

When choosing an astronomy book that best suits your needs, it's important to keep in mind any astronomy-based hobbies you might be interested in developing.

An astronomy book designed for kids is not going to offer detailed advice on how to get started with astrophotography, which lenses you will need, how to mount your camera for time-lapse photography, or how to attach a camera to a telescope. Likewise, a stargazing guide about astrophotography may not contain the information you need to better understand the goals of NASA or the ESA.

For those interested in an astronomy book that provides a more general overview, it's good to keep in mind your prior knowledge. An astronomy textbook designed to keep university students intrigued for an entire semester could very well leave a younger student feeling overwhelmed, like "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam," to use Carl Sagan's words.

Whether it's astronauts' anecdotes, brief histories of giants, or star charts showing the precise locations of constellations throughout the year, every astronomy book is bound to feature aspects of astronomy that will surely pique your interest, but no single book will feature all of them.

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Last updated on June 16, 2018 by Gia Vescovi-Chiordi

Born in Arizona, Gia is a writer who fled the dry heat of the desert for Southern California, where she continues to enjoy drinking beer, overanalyzing the minutiae of everyday life and channeling Rick Steves.

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