It’s a big universe, but a new book from an editor at All About Space reduces it to a compact guide.
The universe, Milky Way and other incredible space objects are the centerpiece of “The brief history of the universe (opens in a new tab)by astronomer Gemma Lavender. The book is now available from Laurence King Publishing. Lavender is a longtime space writer for all about space and also Space.com, as the two are sister websites.
Lavender summarizes nearly 14 billion years of the universe’s history in just over 200 pages, providing a pocket-sized look at how the universe came to be, why it matters, and what it means for today’s audiences.
Space.com spoke with Lavender about her goals for the book, what readers can learn, and where they can learn more after completing this engaging read. You can also buy Lavender’s previous books on amazon (opens in a new tab) to complete your galactic collection.
Space.com: This book takes into account the work of your team at All About Space, along with the physics research you’ve done at Cardiff University in Wales. Can you talk about the life and work experiences he used to create the book?
Lavender Gem: The universe is an extremely amazing place, which can make it quite a complex entity to understand – where do you even start trying to understand how fascinating it is? This is something I’ve come across throughout my career: The general public wants to be able to understand, but they may not have been taught the right way while they were in school, they were bogged down in math, or they were surprising details were overlooked. that could have really triggered his interest.
My work in Cardiff looks at how science content can inspire school leavers to go to university for a STEM career; Is there a way to communicate rocket science to inspire and engage in that way? Are we missing an accessibility trick, or is there a specific formula that can be used to ensure that we are always increasing the number of astronomers, astrophysicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, or even science communicators, writers, publishers, and other associated professions? ?
This is really what inspired “The Short History of the Universe”. It was created with accessibility in mind and inspires, engages, and educates everyone about the cosmos, regardless of the reader’s background, education, or age.
Gemma Lavender is an astronomer, writer and UK-based editor at NOIRlab and All About Space. She has a bachelor’s degree in physical sciences, a master’s degree in astrophysics, and a doctorate in computational astrophysics. She was chosen as a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2011.
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Space.com: The universe is literally one big subject. How did you choose the things to distill in this beginner’s guide?
Lavender: I wanted to make sure that a complete description of the universe was given, while also making sure that each of the sections was in bite-sized pieces. My career has taught me that you only have a small window to really grab a reader’s attention, so it was really a balance to bring out the how, what, where and why with each of the topics: what can I say to a reader? public and why should they care?
Space.com: Science is based on math, so how did you teach readers the things they need to learn about subjects like quantum physics, without taking them through so many equations?
Lavender: I have to admit that this was a challenge for me when I started writing. Having a background in astrophysics meant you often talked about equations and numbers, but knowing who you’re talking to before you start writing means you naturally skip over the equations. The equations tell us something important, but what do they tell us in words and does it tell the reader something of particular interest? This is something I need to consider.
Space.com: How do you choose an artist’s conception of some of the theoretical parts that scientists are still struggling with, like the first moments of the Big Bang or how the universe will die?
Lavender: When choosing images, it’s important to strike the right balance between scientific accuracy and accessibility. Making sure there are recognizable elements in a concept, whether it be galaxies, planets or stars, brings some of the most complex ideas to life. The same goes for the theoretical parts in our understanding of the cosmos: it is important to go for the most accepted theories and weave them into our artist’s concepts.
Space.com: What surprised you the most when you were writing the book or putting all the parts together for publication?
Lavender: No matter how long you’ve been producing content about the universe, you’ll learn something new about it every day – there’s always something really cool to know. I will always be amazed at how big the universe is, or at least our predictions about its size, how we think it started to exist, and how we think it will end.
Space.com: What do you hope people take away from the book and where should they go to learn more about the universe?
Lavender: I love being in a unique position to engage, inspire, and educate about the cosmos. I hope the same is true for every single reader of “The Short History of the Universe.” Even if they learned a little fact to surprise their friends and family, or even if the book helped a student at school with their homework.
As for where they should go to learn more about the universe, I can certainly vouch for the works of Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku and Brian Greene. However, if I was being biased, I can certainly recommend Space.com and All About Space magazine to enhance a reader’s knowledge.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller? (opens in a new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Espaciodotcom (opens in a new tab) either Facebook (opens in a new tab).