Those tasked with marketing books love words like “unique”, “original” and “ground-breaking”, which are typically gross exaggerations, but the description of Stars in Your Hand as “unlike any other astronomy book” seems fair.
The book not only describes the innovations in 3D modelling used by astronomers to investigate the universe, but also offers “easy-to-follow instructions for creating models of stars and constellations using a 3D printer and 3D computer imaging”.
So, along with an illustrated guide to exploring the universe in three dimensions, readers can print and visualise stars, nebulae, supernovae, galaxies and even black holes in three dimensions.
Following a primer on the electromagnetic spectrum and an introduction to 3D techniques applied to astronomical data (including the famous ‘Pillars of Creation’ image from the Eagle Nebula), the authors discuss the computer software and printing aspects.
In general, the approach is light - it’s a small book after all - and easily accessible. The volume is illustrated by 57 black and white images and 40 colour plates (including ‘Pillars’ and some other superb Hubble images) and it benefits from a short glossary and a useful index.
Many of us have looked at detailed images of lunar craters and felt that the 2D renditions looked three-dimensional, while many publications have included those red-and-green-lensed glasses with which to view specially printed 3D images, but this book offers a different experience.
Above all, it reminds us that we have got used to thinking about the universe beyond the solar system in two dimensions, rather as the ancients considered their universe as projected on the celestial sphere. Of course, if we could walk around the galaxies and nebulae, as we can to view a tree from different directions, we’d realise this. In a nutshell, that’s what this “original” little book does.