Big Questions About the Universe

Big Questions About the Universe
Alex Frith and Alice James, illustrated by David J. Plant
Usborne

Written in conjunction with experts from London’s Greenwich Royal Observatory this book addresses both the common and some of the less common questions children ask about outer space and the universe. Readers join two inquisitive children and a friendly robot programmed to do just that; though to answer ‘… where does gravity come from?’ help is required from Albert Einstein.

It starts with the basics: Where is space? What is in it? How far does it go? Where does it begin? Here and throughout the book, the bot is up front about the answers given, saying that it’s not always entirely possible to give a straight answer to such questions; then going on to show how to approach those that are unanswerable. To their question ‘How BIG is the universe?’ comes this opening to the response, ‘Unknown. Completely unknown.’ Further explanation follows of course including that the universe is constantly expanding. There’s a spread about telescopes of various kinds, another looking at the spherical nature, or not, of things in space, a look at how the universe began, big bang – or not?

The next chapter is devoted to the solar system. Did you know that 1300 Earths could fit inside Jupiter, or that astronomers have discovered over 200 moons in our solar system and that Jupiter has at least 80 of them? So far as we know Earth is unique in having so much water: why this is so is a tricky question and it leads on to a mention of what scientists call the Goldilocks zone – I love that name.

Stars and their secrets has a whole chapter, as does ‘People in space’ and ‘The Biggest questions’ are left to the last chapter. I like the way readers are left to answer for themselves whether or not the vast amount of money spent on space research is worth it; what the authors do is put forward the spin-offs such as air and water purifies, mobile phone cameras and instantaneous world-wide communication through satellite networks.

Though packed with information, its presentation with photos, diagrams, cartoon style illustrations, dialogue boxes and blocks of text, is never overwhelming and draws the reader in and through its pages on a fascinating journey of exploration and discovery. Perfectly pitched for upper KS2.

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