Posted by: Rob T | November 10, 2009

National Geographic’s OUR UNIVERSE

There were two things in my young life that got me thoroughly engaged and excited about science and astronomy.  One, Carl Sagan, has been recently celebrated and written up all over the blogosphere by others greater than I – all I can manage is to point there way and say, “Yup…  What they said.”

But in thinking back to watching Cosmos, I was reminded of that other source of excitement: Our Universe, published in 1980 by National Geographic.

Our Universe

Our Universe

I hadn’t seen the book in years, but I dug it out of a bookshelf in the basement to refresh my memory.  It’s a large, square book, perfect for a coffee table. And when I was a kid, this book easily contained the greatest drawings and explanations of the universe than I’d even seen before.

Betelgeuse is Big

Betelgeuse is Big

I would flip back and forth between the pages for the different planets, comparing their sizes, masses, number of moons, ring shapes, and more.  I even liked how the mythology got tied in to the planets as they showed drawings of the gods the planets were named after.

Jupiter

Jupiter

I remember the first time I heard that scientists had discovered more moons around Jupiter.  I went back to Our Universe and just thought about that.  Here’s this great book, only out for a couple years, and it’s already wrong!  I thought that was so awesome.

Jupiter's 14 Moons (as of 1980)

Jupiter's 14 Moons (as of 1980)

There’s some really great science in here, too.  A good graphic of how Mars appears to go retrograde; a picture of Saturn floating in an impossibly large glass of water, while Earth and Mercury sit like pebbles at the bottom; a discussion of how light spectra are used to determine the elemental makeup of a star; a description of how that brand spanking new Space Shuttle thingy will work; and plenty, plenty more.

Saturn Floats

Saturn Floats

Our Universe even got speculative at points, suggesting how life might exist on other worlds in our solar system — not suggesting that such life actually existed, but if you postulate that life does exist there, what would it have to be like to survive in that kind of environment.  I loved those pages.  It fired up my imagination.  And that, dear readers, is part of what kept me interested.

Stovebellies and Fishimanders on Titan

Stovebellies and Fishimanders on Titan

The takeaway from this, for me, is how I plan to get my kids excited about science — just put it in front of them.  I wasn’t beat over the head with Cosmos or this book, they were just there for the taking.  Give kids these kinds of wonderful resources, and they’ll eat up it like candy-coated-candy.  Science isn’t about textbooks, balancing chemical equations, free-body diagrams, cell mitosis, gravitational lensing, carbon-dating, or stuff like that.

Science is about imagination!

Science is about wonderment!

Science is about awesomeness!


It’s about letting your kids help you (not just watch you) put together their Galileoscopes and heading outside to look at the craters in the moon or moons around Jupiter.  You don’t have to tell them to count how many they’ll see — they figure that out on their own!

Little Skeptic Girl and Little Skeptic Boy with their Galileoscopes

Little Skeptic Girl and Little Skeptic Boy with their Galileoscopes

Both Cosmos and Our Universe lit the fire for me.  They taught me a lot, but they also made me excited about learning more.  Let’s be sure we’re doing the same with our kids.

Big Dipper Side View

Big Dipper Side View

..Rob T.

I would flip back and forth between the pages for the different planets, comparing their sizes, masses, number of moons, ring shapes, and more.  I even liked how the mythology got tied in to the planets as they showed drawings of the gods the planets were named after.  I remember the first time they announced more moons around Jupiter, and I went back to Our Universe and just thought about that.  Here’s this great book, only out for a couple years, and it’s already wrong!  I thought that was so awesome.
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Responses

  1. That was such a great book. I spent hours poring over the pages when I was a kid.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Thanks for the fantastic flash back! This was my favorite book as a kid. I think it’s still floating around my parents house. I think its time to go resurrect it and share it with my kids.

  3. Now I have to look through my parents house for the book. I had that book as well.

  4. OMG!!! I just had to call my parents (who are like 70) and ask that they root around in the basement for my copy of that book from my childhood so they could UPS it to me and I could give it to my 8 year old.

  5. Hi

    Thanks for pulling it off the shelf. I’ve been trying to remember the title of that book and now here it is. Excellent. Loved the weird aliens. My son got a kick out of borrowing it from his Primary School library just a couple of years ago – must’ve hid on the shelves safe from purges of old books.

    There’s an illustration I’ve been trying to track down from it, in the last section about spaceflight – pictures of starships – which I’ve been wanting to find a scan of. Now I know what book it is, hopefully I’ll have more success.

  6. I remember reading this book over and over as a kid, when I went to look for it 30 years later unfortunately my mom threw it away. What I also remember is it came with a bonus package with a small vinyl record and some slides you looked at through a cardboard tube of various photos and artists visions of the universe. In particular there was one set of slides called “Strange but not True” that showed “life on Neptune” a mountain top on Uranus, animals floating in Jupiter’s atmosphere, etc.

  7. I *wore this book out* when I was a kid! My copy eventually fell apart, but it acted like COSMOS on me, and 30+ years later I am a Planetary Scientist. It can be found through Amazon, B&N and by searching used book dealers…

  8. …but Amazon has 2 less of them since I visited.

  9. […] National Geographic and Time-Life books I grew up with as a kid, much like Rob T.’s book Our Universe. As a kid I remember flipping through those books, possibly even before I could read, over and over […]

  10. I had just posted on Facebook that Cosmos and Our Universe were the major reasons I became interested in space exploration. And in looking up Our Universe, I found the link to your blog. It’s nice to find a kindred spirit out there.


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