Two for budding astronomers

For readers with imagination, Stars and The Sun by Seymour Simon (William Morrow, $13 each, ages 12 and up) are breathtaking. For adults and for children old enough to think in terms of abstraction, enormous distance, and mystery, the text and photographs in these two books will evoke fascination and wonder.

Simon briefly describes what astronomers see today. He uses familiar, graphic comparisons, such as, ``If the earth were the size of a golf ball, then the sun would be a globe 15 feet across.''

In simple words he gives an idea of distance: ``Imagine traveling in a space ship going 10 miles a second. Even at that speed, it would still take you about three and a half months to reach the sun. But it would take more than 70,000 years to reach the next nearest star, Alpha Centauri.''

Simon has authored more than 100 science books for children, and his experience wears well.

The information is simplified but accurate. The writing is direct and clear. It's not easy to approach nebulae, quasars, and black holes with everyday vocabulary.

Although he does not explore their complex significance, such as the relation of black holes to curved space and relativity theory, he does whet the reader's appetites.

The two books are elegant, with attractive large type, page-wide photos of full color, coated paper, and hard covers. Either volume would make an inspiring gift for a 12-year-old, and possibly for an occasional 10-year-old, were he or she an incipient and enthusiastic astronomer.

While the picture-book size of the page and print might suggest that these books are suitable for younger ages, Piaget and others have shown that this kind of abstract information, so distant from our daily experience, is rarely understood and appreciated by children under 12 years of age.

The rudimentary but expansive information in these books inspired me to read further, to question and probe until I plunged into the new physics from Planck and Einstein, to Heisenberg, Bohr, and Bohm.

Although Simon himself does not go so far, his books, touching new information discovered through our speed-of-light technology may invite an exciting range of thinking and speculation.

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