If galaxies could talk, what would they say? It’s a strange question, to be certain. However, it’s also an interesting thought exercise, particularly as science writers try to find new ways to discuss topics, like astrophysics, to broader audiences. How would a galaxy tell its story of its birth, development, and eventual demise?
That is the premise behind The Milky Way: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy by astrophysicist Moiya McTier. Her book offers a first-person (first-galaxy?) account of our own galaxy and related topics that extend from the Big Bang to the ultimate fate of the universe, an unconventional approach to discussing concepts in astrophysics.
So what does the galaxy sound like? A little bit of a jerk, to be honest. “I am the greatest galaxy who has ever lived,” the Milky Way writes in the opening paragraph, an attitude that persists throughout the book. The galaxy looks down on us humans (and most other galaxies, for that matter) but the premise of the book is that galaxy is bored and lonely enough to discuss its life with us mere humans.
So what does the galaxy sound like? A little bit of a jerk, to be honest. “I am the greatest galaxy who has ever lived.”
That is the framing that McTier uses to explore topics such as the Big Bang, the formation of the Milky Way in the early history of the universe, and the birth and death of stars, among other topics. The book dives into details about these topics at times, leaving behind the voice of the galaxy, but it’s not long before that voice, and attitude, returns.
There are limits to this approach. A seemingly omniscient galaxy would know what makes up the halo of dark matter surrounding it, a long-standing mystery for terrestrial astronomers. Alas, the galaxy isn’t talking: “Your astronomers don’t know what it is—and I won’t let that tidbit of information slip.” Evidently this is a not a tell-all memoir.
For some readers, the tone of the book will become grating: who wants to be lectured to by someone with a superior, know-it-all attitude, whether it’s a person or a galaxy? On the other hand, if you find that entertaining, the book is a good introduction into the past, present, and future of our galaxy and our universe. There is no single ideal approach for communicating astrophysics, or other science topics, to all readers, and alternative approaches like this may attract those turned off by a more conventional approach.
Jeff Foust (email@example.com) is the editor and publisher of The Space Review, and a senior staff writer with SpaceNews. He also operates the Spacetoday.net web site. Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.
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