Wonder no more. Astronomer James Kaler has written a lucid, beautifully illustrated guide to the most obvious ingredient of the universe. "To know ourselves, we must know the stars"--how they are created, what makes them shine, their distances, and their fates. To say "we are stardust" is cold scientific truth: every element in our bodies (and our planet) except the hydrogen was made inside a star and thrown into space by a supernova explosion five billion years ago or more.
Walt Whitman's poem "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer" describes how he became "tired and sick" of "charts and diagrams" and left to "look up in perfect silence at the stars." Kaler refutes Whitman by example as he combines scientific fact with poetic expression:
Stars come dripping from the fonts of interstellar space, where they are created out of the loose gas and dust. As they age, they pump enriched matter back into the wellsprings of creation.
Kaler is a learned astronomer that even Whitman might have followed. --Mary Ellen Curtin