This is, without doubt, one of the stronger members of the ‘The Universe Rocks’ series – helped by the fact that there are few more amazing topics than stars. In the book, young readers are taken through how stars are born, the life cycle of the Sun, different types of stars, the role of stars in making the other elements from hydrogen, and the final destinations of stars, including, of course, neutron stars and black holes. There’s some really meaty material here and though Raman Prinja does sometimes leave out the best bits, there’s enough to real grab the imagination and inspire a young astronomer.
What is also good is that the activities are quite strong and well focussed on the subject. We have had complaints with some of the other books in the series that creaky old science projects (like the dreaded baking powder and vinegar volcano) are hauled out of the closet to pad out a book where it’s difficult to produce appropriate activities, but in this title the activities are spot on. We are invited to make an experiment to simulate why the stars twinkle, we do an ingenious experiment with a table tennis ball and a tennis ball to see a kind of shock wave in action, and we take a look at the stars themselves to perform a survey and make up our own constellations. Excellent.
There are a few quibbles. The whole series is too dark and low contrast. It’s always a problem with illustrated books on space – the publisher can’t resist the temptation of using a black background for many of the pages, but the result is a rather murky visual style. I also did think there were some good bits missed. No reference to the role of quantum tunnelling in fusion in the Sun, for instance, and it’s not made clear enough that stars can’t go beyond iron in producing elements without the help of a supernova. Similarly I would have liked to have seen not just why stars twinkle, but why planets don’t. But there is plenty to enjoy.
Overall, a good introduction to stars and nucleosynthesis for the young reader that is definitely recommended.
Review by Brian Clegg