cover image The Last Stargazers: the Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers

The Last Stargazers: the Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers

Emily Levesque. Sourcebooks, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4926-8107-6

Levesque, a University of Washington astronomy professor, leads readers on a pilgrimage to observatories throughout the world in her wonderful debut. Having “been enraptured by space for as long as I [can] remember,” Levesque became set on astronomy as a career while studying at MIT among like-minded students and professors who similarly appreciated “the simple beauty of the sky.” She blends these memories with profiles of huge telescopes, including the “beast of a machine” at Arizona’s Kitt Peak National Observatory, Chile’s cutting-edge Vera C. Rubin Observatory, and the mighty 630-ton Subaru Telescope atop Hawaii’s highest mountain. Levesque describes her research on red supergiant stars, which led to a breakthrough about “how the insides of stars could work,” and recalls how, before the widespread adoption of digital photography, astronomers like herself relied on glass photographic plates, working through the night to make adjustments by hand. Adding an Indiana Jones vibe, she recalls how, for her and others, astronomy has led to close calls with lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions, tarantulas (“actually fairly, shy, skittish, and fragile”), and scorpions (which “do pose a danger to astronomers”). This will particularly appeal to young women interested in science, but any stargazer would enjoy this joyous adventure through modern astronomy. (Aug.)