“Astronomy is useful because it raises us above ourselves; it is useful because it is grand.” – Henri Poincaré

An annular eclipse like the one visible from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia today. Credit: Kevin Baird

The publication of The Last Stargazers is just six weeks away, and this week’s big news is that the audiobook is currently being recorded! Recorded Books purchased the audio production rights and brought on the fantastic Janet Metzger as a narrator. She and I were in touch this week about some pronunciation double-checks, which ranged from Quebecois slang to the Tohono O’odham language to some of astronomy’s famously-funky acronyms (when Janet accurately described the abbreviation “ToO” – short for Target of Opportunity, and pronounced spelled out as “tee oh oh” in case anyone is wondering – as appearing “a bazillion times” in Chapter 11 of the book, I knew we’d get along excellently). The audiobook will be released on August 4th right along with the hardcover and ebook, and I can’t believe that people will be able to read and hear The Last Stargazers so soon!

Book Thoughts: Planetary Times

As the publication date for The Last Stargazers draws closer, I’ve been asked more than once about what a book of astronomy adventures means to people today. The past few months have been a time of immense upheaval, from a global pandemic to a multi-continent call to action fighting systemic racism and declaring that Black Lives Matter. It’s a time when the adventures of scientists traveling to distant corners of the planet to study things that are billions of lightyears away can seem rather remote and esoteric.

I wrote The Last Stargazers to share the human experiences of astronomy, a field that reaches into the far corners of the cosmos but that also sparks the imaginations of countless people every day. When reading the news, looking around at my fellow Seattle-ites, and speaking with faraway friends and family, I’ve been struck repeatedly by the fact that this pandemic is truly a planetary event, a share circumstance regardless of where we are on Earth. It’s an enormity that truly exists on an astronomical scale.

I felt this same enormity in 2017 during the total solar eclipse that crossed North America. I traveled to Wyoming with my family to see it, and remember reflecting on how incredible it was that so many people were making travel plans, trekking toward the path of totality, and sharing in the excitement of observational science, all thanks to astronomy. That eclipse offered a wonderful sense of human community and felt like an immense event at the time – and it only crossed one continent!

My family geared up and ready to observe our first total solar eclipse in 2017.

Another solar eclipse happened today, with a path arcing from central and eastern Africa up through the Middle East and southeast Asia. It was a rare “ring of fire” annular eclipse (where the moon is too far away in its orbit to completely block the sun and instead leaves a ringed sliver of the solar surface visible during its peak), and those lucky enough to be in its path were treated to another unique spectacle that we share as citizens of our little planet.

We also marked Earth’s June solstice yesterday. In the southern hemisphere this meant a long crisp night of winter skies; in the northern hemisphere this meant our most sun-filled summer day. From here on out our northern-hemisphere days start to get shorter again…but this also means our stargazing time gets longer.

During this pandemic we’ve unfortunately all seen shared experiences of struggle and tragedy, tying together our experiences as humans on this planet. One reason astronomy is so beautiful to me is that it can bring us this same global unity through triumph and the thrill of discovery and exploration. Things like launching spacecrafts that journey out past our solar system, discovering planets that may harbor alien life, or taking our first picture of a black hole are scientific victories that all of us can share and appreciate from our precious vantage point here on Earth. The Last Stargazers is my attempt to capture the joy that my colleagues and I often find in the night sky, and to share that joy with my readers.

What’s next for The Last Stargazers?

The book launch for The Last Stargazers will be on the evening of August 3rd and hosted by Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle! I’ll share more details here (includes special guest news and info on getting signed copies) as soon as we have them! We’re also putting together more virtual events with bookstores, libraries, and some of your favorite online venues, and will post future event announcements through this newsletter and the book’s Events page.

You can also read past newsletter updates on the book’s website, follow me on my Goodreads and Amazon author pages, and read a Kindle excerpt of The Last Stargazers today!