If you follow the debates in space law regarding ownership of asteroids and other solar system bodies, you will smile at the thought of owning the Milky Way galaxy, never mind needing an Owners’ Manual. But this is, of course, just the latest in Haynes’ repurposing of its long-running series to inform its readership about space topics. As such it has probably won the prize for ‘book with the largest scope’ with its promise - in the subtitle - to cover “From 13.5 billion years ago to the infinite future” (and all that in 172 pages!).
Joking apart, the author has put together a concise and nicely illustrated summary of a very large subject. Its main sections cover a brief history of scientific discovery; formation theories and large scale structures; the other galaxies in our ‘neighbourhood’; and the technology used to probe “the Milky Way’s secrets”. The book concludes with the author’s choice of nebulae and other objects, and a look at the future for our galaxy. There is also a glossary and an index.
The colour photos in this book are worthy of specific mention. We are used to glorious false colour images of nebulae and globular clusters, but even the ground-based observatories are beautifully represented here. The same goes for the software-generated maps and artist’s conceptions. One of the most thought-provoking is an image of what is likely to be seen in the night sky when the Andromeda galaxy collides with ours (about 4.5 billion years from now). A more amusing example is the ‘Bok globule’, which looks a bit like a glowing caterpillar rampaging through a dust cloud!
It is a shame that the Milky Way – the view into the plane of our galaxy – is invisible to most of the world’s populations because of light pollution. Perhaps this book will encourage those lucky enough to travel to regions of the planet where it is visible to look up and enjoy the spectacle.