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Heaven's Touch: From Killer Stars to the Seeds of Life, How We Are Connected to the Universe Hardcover – 9 Aug 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (9 Aug. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691129460
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691129464
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 85,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010

"Kaler's writing is enthusiastic, and he conveys his own wonder and excitement at the myriad mysteries of the universe. His description of the effect of the sun and moon on the tides is thorough, as are his explanations of the source of the sun's energy and how an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter was discovered."--Publisher's Weekly

"James Kaler has crafted an outstanding short introduction to astronomy and cosmology by adopting a point of view that I have not seen before in a popular account of the cosmos. . . . Heaven's Touch is a passionate account both of humanity's tangible contact with the Universe at large and the profound influence of the Universe on life on Earth."--Simon Mitton, Times Higher Education

"With the avuncular Professor as our guide, we are taken on a whirlwind tour of the Universe as we know and understand it and how, possibly, we came to be and very nearly not to be. He has a pleasingly straightforward style and, wherever possible, tries to steer clear of complex scientific jargon. . . . Professor Kaler has attempted to enliven what could be a complicated and uninteresting topic, and through linking everything together via his well explained engaging text, he has admirably succeeded."--Astronomy Now

"This very readable book presents the many and various ways Earth and life here are connected to and affected by the universe, on scales ranging from local (within Earth's solar system) to cosmic (back to the big bang). Kaler, an experienced astronomy educator and researcher, provides a fascinating account of how human existence is due to events that happened long, long ago and far, far away. . . . For professional astronomers tempted to write a popular yet accurate account of their pet interest, this book is a lesson in how to do it superbly."--Choice

"Read this book. You will find yourself listening and capturing information from the mind of someone who treats science as more of an ethereal topic; not as a bunch of formulas, but as a thing of beauty. Anyone can read Heaven's Touch, from the hardcore scientist to the newly-introduced amateur, and come out with a better understanding of the subject."--Francine Jackson, Planetarian

"Heaven's Touch is a stimulating, clarifying work of popular astronomy and cosmology."--Maui News

"Written in a style which reduces complex processes into manageable bites, yet containing numerous facts and figures, this book works well as good read and will also perform as a reference book, allowing the reader to dip in and out if a short explanation of a particular event is required. Overall this is a well written, eye opening account of how we are affected by Heaven's Touch."--Phil Brotherwood, FAS Newsletter

"Among the many things I like about Heaven's Touch is that, as scary as some of the cosmic scenarios Kaler depicts may seem, the book's goals . . . are to inspire and inform rather than intimidate. . . . I applaud Kaler's achievement and recommend his book to teachers of astronomy and to their students."--Naomi Pasachoff, Newsletter of IAU Commission 46 on Education and Development

From the Back Cover

"Jim Kaler, who has passionately and expertly described the stars and their vagaries, now brings the whole Universe--from the tides through hypernovae and gamma-ray bursts--to general readers. His writing is not only clear and straightforward but also correct and up to date, addressing both standard topics and the latest astronomical goodies."--Jay M. Pasachoff, Williams College

"Heaven's Touch examines the physical effects of gravity, radiation, solar storms, asteroid and comet impacts, cosmic rays, supernovae, and gamma-ray bursts on our home planet. Its conclusions are significant: our planet does not exist in isolation but rather is part of a complex planetary, stellar, and galactic system whose influences are profound. I found myself propelled along in the reading."--J. Michael Shull, University of Colorado at Boulder

"Heaven's Touch presents the diverse ways that astronomical objects affect the Earth and humans, beyond their visual appearance in the sky. Kaler is a senior astronomer with an excellent reputation as a researcher, educator, and author. There is a lot of good material here that has not featured in very many popular astronomy books."--Chris Impey, author of The Living Cosmos

"Heaven's Touch contains much of interest that should be informative and engaging to readers."--Donald Brownlee, coauthor of Rare Earth

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By D. H. H. Richards on 16 Nov. 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A really fantastic book which is mind-blowing. We are taken from this wonderful earth where the effects of other solar system bodies are explained and then to the Milky Way and to the galaxies beyond. This should be a 'must read'for all human beings. It is difficult to beleive that anyone could could have such a grasp of such enormously complex phenomena and be able to explain them in terms that a non-specialist can understand. A truly fantastic read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. S. A. Mitton on 9 Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Heaven's Touch is a passionate account both of humanity's tangible contact with the universe at large, and the profound influences of the universe for life on Earth. In Heaven's Touch, Jim Kaler has a new take on astrophysics and cosmology whereby he involves rational beings as participants in the grandeur of the cosmos. He treads in the footsteps of giants such as Jeans, Eddington and Hoyle without tripping up. Kaler equals them all by connecting our ordinary human experience of the world in which we live with the immensity of the universe as well as the variety of its content.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By matt_oslo on 26 Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Well written and very engaging. The perfect read for anyone who looks at the sky and wonders at it all and who wants more of an explanation than school science or wikipedia can provide. The staggering enormity of the Universe and how it is all interconnected leaves a deep impression. A MUST read, comparable to 'A brief history of time'.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Long distance call 21 Sept. 2009
By Harry Eagar - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Boiling out of the center of the sun, jillions of neutrinos race out and within minutes pass through our bodies. Heavier particles take a million years to jostle their way to the surface, then a few days to reach Earth, where they either are deflected by the magnetic field, captured in the Van Allen belts or, sometimes, pass through our bodies.

Just because we don't notice doesn't mean this dance of the particles isn't affecting us, according to James Kaler, emeritus professor of astronomy at the University of Illinois. He must have been a fine classroom instructor, because "Heaven's Touch" is a stimulating, clarifying work of popular astronomy and cosmology.

The unifying theme is that everything in the (possibly infinite) Universe is connected to everything else. Not in the vague sense that hippie poets say this, but in specific, complex ways. Starting from dust, stars coalesce, burn, explode or implode (or both) and set the stage for another act, similar but meaningfully different, because each iteration increases the total of heavy elements. Heavy elements are us.

The factors that keep the Earth within a temperature range convenient to life include the varying output of the
sun, the presence of a relatively big moon (which damps out the swings of the seasons), the very long oscillations of the interacting orbits of all the pieces of the solar system and, maybe, encountering dark interstellar clouds that dim the sun enough to chill the Earth.

There could be other factors that we have no idea of, Kaler says.

The ones we know we do not always understand. The number of sunspots waxes and wanes. The lows match periods of cooler Earth climate. Cause or coincidence? Nobody knows.

"There seems to be little doubt that the solar cycle has a powerful long term effect, which confuses issues (including the politics) of global warming," writes Kaler. The sun has been quiet this summer, the Earth has been cool.

Someday, the sun will cool, expand and engulf the Earth in atomic fire. Optimists think that by then we will have escaped the solar system and begun filling the Galaxy. Kaler doesn't say we won't, but he does point out a problem with that program.

Very energetic cosmic rays (some possibly even from other galaxies) can kill. Spaceships can be shielded somewhat from the slow rays of the sun, but a fast spaceship (going a large fraction of the speed of light) will hit cosmic rays (also going a large fraction of the speed of light) and, we now know, coming from every direction, head on.

Shielding against that will be difficult. Yet if we go slow, it takes, if not forever, a very long time to get anywhere.

At 10 times the speed of the space shuttle, the trip to the nearest star (assuming constant speed) would take around three centuries. Aside from restlessness among the passengers, one wonders what the source of energy would be for the middle century of that trip.

Kaler does not explicitly raise this objection, but his statements inspire the question. The tone of "Heaven's Touch" is more optimistic (but never mystic): He concludes, "It's time now to savor the overall gift of the sky, the heavens, of the cosmos."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A cosmic tour de force 9 Nov. 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Heaven's Touch" by J B Kaler is a fascinating account of the myriad ways the cosmos affects life on Earth; tides, seasons, ice ages, asteroids, cosmic rays, the origin of the elements, as well as a host of other celestial phenomena.

The most obvious heavenly touch comes from the sun and its effects on the seasons and the daily cycle of light and darkness. But Kaler also explains more subtle solar effects: how ice ages come and go, how sunspots influence climate (controversial), auroras, and why the lunar astronauts were very lucky indeed.

More pertinently, life on Earth may owe its very existence to the Moon and Jupiter. The Moon dampens certain instabilities in the orbit of the Earth that, unchecked, might have made our planet a more hostile place for life.

Jupiter may have kept the inner solar system largely free of death-dealing asteroids, either by altering their orbits to toss them out of the solar System, or by "absorbing" them - the fate of comet Shoemaker-Levy in 1994. But Kaler explains that Jupiter may also toss asteroids our way!

Novae are some of the most spectacular cosmic events, and the most famous novae have had some surprising influences here on Earth. Kaler mentions the nova dubbed "Tycho's Star" that occurred in 1572. That nova demonstrated that, contrary to Church dogma, the heavens are not unchanging. This was yet another small step of the path to the enlightenment and even the Reformation - an explosion in ideas triggered by an exploding star!

Kaler's explanation of cosmic rays is the best I have read. It is very clear and simple and would make an excellent text for science students, apart from the general reader. He goes on to explain just how important cosmic rays are to star formation, creation of light elements such as lithium, and even C14, which is so useful for carbon dating. Cosmic rays are not just minor scientific curiosities; they play major roles in the Universe.

Kaler's explanations of the seasons, how the planets move and of the tides are quite good, but require close attention from the reader to grasp the concepts fully. Presumably the lack of diagrams is so the book does not look like a textbook to freak out general readers.

Unfortunately, verbal descriptions of complex phenomena are not always the best way to explain them. A few good diagrams would have made tides, seasons and the phases of the moon obvious at a glance.

There are no equations either, which is both a help and a hindrance. Publishers abhor equations because they allegedly drag down sales. However, a few simple equations explaining planetary orbits would have been more useful than Kaler's verbal account of orbital concepts.

These are minor quibbles. Kaler has gone to great lengths to simplify his explanations of complex phenomena.

General readers will certainly enjoy this excellent book, but it does require motivation and some basic scientific knowledge to get the best from it.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Astronomy at it's Best! 11 Jan. 2010
By Michael R. Nofi - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I have read many of Kaler's books on stars (a subject in which he is passionate about). I believe this is his first book on general astronomy and this is one of his best! I have been a reader in astronomy for over 50 years and this book really surprised me.

Initially, I was put off by the title thinking that it may have a religious slant, but the book remains completely neutral and will appeal to all audiences.

If you have an interest in things astronomical, and you wish to get brought up to date, then this is the book for you. While there is something in this book for everyone, the books contents will be best absorbed by readers with a general science background.

Kaler's style is always upbeat, optimistic, and engaging. The panoramic coverge of the subject matter is impressive and as vast as the cosmos. There is a tremendous amount of information backed between the covers.

The technical level is very even throughout the book with no mathematical formulas or tedious graphs to wade through. His explanations of the origin of the elements of the periodic table is very impressive as well as his detailed explanations of the laws of planetary motion---all without the use of a single formula or graph. My favorite discussion centered around the understanding of cosmic rays and their importance. What I enjoyed most was that he was able to answer many of my personal questions that I have never found answers too in the hundreds of books I have read on the subject. These are the kind of questions you want to ask the author in person. Kaler seems to anticipate the kind of questions enquiring minds ask.

Kaler nows his subject, especially those dealing with celestial motions. He got this down pat. Some minor criticisms: Contrary to the subtitles claim, "From Killer Stars to the Seeds of Life", very little mention is made in regard to the possible origins of life from space. Sometimes his explanations of astronomical phenomena are incomplete, but this is inevitable for an introduction to astronomy at this level. There is no mention of global warming as being attributed to man made or natural phenomena which is on everyone's minds. It is obvious from the material that Kaler believes that there are enough inflences from the heavens above that can cause dramatic changes in our weather and climate, without invoking man made influences. Kaler expresses no biases or personal opinions in regard to the subject matter. In fact he seems to avoid any bias at all. While this is usually good for a scientist, anyone who is passionate about their subject usually holds some strong opinions that often go counter to main stream thought. There was none of this in Kaler's book. A certain amount of opinion adds spice to any subject.

I wish the book was longer and had more images to celebrate the stark beauty of the universe. But there are plenty of other books that do that!

Read this, even if you are a professional astronomer, you won't be disapointed.
Read Last Year 14 April 2011
By Frank A. Whorton - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you like Astronomy, I highly recommend reading any book by Kaler. He explains very complicated ideas in easy to understand prose that engages me like few other Astronomy authors. I bought this book a year ago...just before a 4 month deployment and read in a few days. This book focuses on the local neighborhood and how the earth and life is affected by cosmic happenings: orbital mechanics, comets/asteroids, our brother/sister planets, the sun, and other stars. Tough to find his books in libraries even here in his home turf of Illinois, so I break down buy Kaler's when he writes one. They go on my bookshelves as great reference sources. Even I, a very well-read Astronomy buff, learned many new things or had them explained more clearly by Kaler. Only improvement I will suggest is that there could be more pictures with color.
Good overview 9 Dec. 2012
By W. Cheung - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a lighthearted overview of astrological bodies and phenomena that directly or indirectly have an effect on our world - basically very much everything in the universe. Descriptions of these entities are followed by deliberation on their implication to the formation and development of life and, arguably, civilization on Earth. These heavenly bodies determine the materials that we are made of, our climate, and even the course of evolution. A stimulating read throughout. Four stars (more illustrations will add another one).
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