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A Closer Look Beyond the Solar System
Welcome to the SB&F Editor's Blog. I am Maria Sosa, Editor-in-Chief of SB&F. Through this blog I hope to interact with the SB&F community and post news and information related to science books, videos, authors, opportunities and other topics of interest to our readers. I hope you find the blog useful and entertaining. Please, join the conversation by posting a comment on our Facebook page. I'd love to hear from you!


This is the second in a series of posts that takes a closer look at the 2014 Finalists for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize.

Mary Kay Carson's Beyond the Solar System: Exploring Galaxies, Black Holes, Alien Planets, and More (Chicago Review Press, 2013) is sure to be a big hit with history of science buffs like me. She hooked me right away with the first few sentences of the Introduction: "The next time you look up at the 3,000 or so stars visible in the night sky, put yourself in the place of a prehistoric person. Looking up at all those little lights in the darkness, imagine what you think they are. Tiny, faraway campfires that never burn out? Flying creatures carrying torches?" (p. vii) This introduction sets the stage for a hands-on look at the history of how we came to know about the stars.

Carson delivers a well-crafted blend of history and hands-on activities in this highly informative book that is a follow up to her acclaimed 2006 release, Exploring the Solar System: A History with 22 Activities. The first chapter introduces young readers to the history of sky watching before the invention of the telescope. Concepts introduced here are reinforced by activities such as carefully observing the night sky and making an astrolabe.

Telescopes and gravity are introduced in Chapter 2, which also includes "Make a Reflecting Telescope," an activity that Carson has called the "crowning activity of the book. Familiar figures like Galileo, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton are also introduced in this chapter.

The rest of the chapters tell the story of modern astronomy from the Big Bang and black holes to exoplanets and dark energy. The hands-on activities that accompany these later chapters are quite novel and creative as students build models of the concepts and phenomena that relate to the discoveries discussed in the text, which include some of the latest astronomical discoveries and astronomers.

Science is an unfolding story, and it is important that young learners understand this. There have been many important discoveries in the past, but the story is far from complete. In the Afterward, Carson asks, "What will we find next?" There is so much more to be discovered about the universe, and books like Beyond the Solar System can inspire today's students to become tomorrow's explorers.

The historical sections of the book seem best suited for middle school students and above, but the activities can be done by younger students with the assistance of an adult or older student. For the classroom, the book is supportive of the core ideas in the Earth and Space Science strands of the Next Generation Science Standards for the middle school grades. With regards to the Common Core Standards, the book would be an excellent text to help scaffold students to the more complex reading required in high school. The illustrations and hands-on activities can greatly aid student comprehension of a text that is both challenging and lucid. An excellent glossary and a list of additional resources round out this excellent book.

Links for More Information

Mary Kay Carson's website

More books by Mary Kay Carson

An Interview with Mary Kay Carson

An interview with Mary Kay Carson on

The Science NetLinks Collection Celebrating Space Exploration provides a variety of rich media learning experiences to help students learn discover the history and future of space travel.


The AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books is sponsored by Subaru.

Posted 15 Nov 2013 2:55 PM by Maria Sosa