The Milky Way galaxy is perhaps the grandest structure of which we are a part (along with the galaxy of neurons which is the human brain itself). Long perceived as the milky path across the night-sky and first revealed, in all its beauty and detail, in the wide-angle photographs of the American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard in the late 19th and early twentieth century, we have now mapped it in detail and begun to explore its strange contents – from spiral arms in which new stars are being born from dust clouds to the Monster Black Hole that lies in its center.
More than almost anything else knowable to man, the view of the Milky Way stretching across the Cave of the Night as seen from a dark and pristine site suggests an image of eternity. Indeed, the Milky Way's vast system of 100,000 million stars is ancient – some 13 billion years old. But it is not a static and unchanging system; it is an evolving system. We have now begun to excavate – like archaeologists – the wreckage of star systems assimilated into it; we have learned that it is not a closed system – its gas is being replenished from the intergalactic medium – and this influx of gas sustains structures like the spiral arms that would otherwise be evanescent and revives the bursts of new star clusters. We realize that the familiar and mathematically idealized forms of the Hubble classification system – elliptical galaxies through barred and Grand Design spirals – though they provide a reasonable fit to the objects in the nearby universe do not describe well the violently disturbed exotica of the early universe. Drawing on the insights gleaned from a host of space telescopes probing galaxies across the electromagnetic spectrum and to the edge of the universe, the authors provide a map of our own star-system in space and unfold the stages of its development across time. The view is one of the Galaxy – and its place in the universe – as never before.
William Sheehan is an American astronomical historian and writer, who has written the authoritative (and much-acclaimed) biography of Milky Way photographer and pioneering astronomer E. E. Barnard, The Immortal Fire Within. A regular scholar-in-residence at leading observatories including Yerkes, Lick, Lowell, and Mt. Wilson, he is currently working on a biography of stellar spectroscopist and galaxy morphologist W. W. Morgan, who discovered the spiral-arm structure of the Milky Way in 1951. As a professional psychiatrist as well as an astronomer, he has a unique insight into the personalities of the pioneering figures of the history of science. He has published a number of books on the history of Solar System studies, especially on the Moon and Mars, and is a consulting editor of Sky & Telescope, a 2001 fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (for his research on the Milky Way), recipient of the Gold Medal of the Oriental Astronomical Association (the first Caucasian to receive that award), etc., etc. Asteroid no. 16037 is named in his honor (Sheehan).
Christopher Conselice, an astronomer at the University of Nottingham, is one of the world's leading experts on galaxy formation and evolution. He was educated at the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconson-Madison, and has held post-doctoral positions at the California Institute of Technology and the Space Telescope Science Institute. He was a regular contributor to Mercury, the magazine of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He has published his research in the leading professional journals of astronomy, including Science, Nature, and the Astrophysical Journal.
Julian Baum is one of the world's most highly regarded astronomical artists. His work was featured in Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest, The Guide to the Galaxy. He lives in Chester, England.
"With many great photographs – from Edwin Hubble to the Hubble Space Telescope – a robust approach to the science which is (usually) very well explained, and detailed footnotes, this is a history of galactic astronomy that should definitely find space on your bookshelf."
– Andy Sawers, Astronomy Now, September, 2015
"There are 186 illustrations, including many not often seen, and the production is of high quality. Sheehan & Conselice have produced a meticulously researched masterpiece on the talented individuals who first explored the extragalactic Universe."
– Simon Mitton, The Observatory, Vol. 135 (1247), August, 2015
"Galactic Encounters consists of three distinct parts, each with its own voice. [...] the material is written at a level accessible to enthusiasts looking for a narrative introduction. [...] If you enjoy reading stories about astronomers, or if you want an excellent introduction to galaxies and cosmology, then much of Galactic Encounters is perfect: fun to read and full of information."
– Louise Edwards, Physics Today, June, 2015
"Sheehan (astronomy historian/writer;psychiatrist) and Conselice (astronomer, Univ. of Nottingham, UK) do this in an informative and engaging style by choosing prominent scientists who made significant contributions and then giving biographical information about these individuals. In this way, the authors not only maintain the scientific standard of the writing at a high level but also convey a flavor of how research is undertaken. [...] Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers."
– D. E. Hogg, Choice, Vol. 52 (8), April, 2015
"Galactic Encounters [...] is a beautifully written and illustrated compilation of our progressive understanding of the cosmos since Galileo first pointed his telescope at the Milky Way and saw multitudes of stars. [...] Galactic Encounters is an informative and enjoyable read [...] ."
– Klaus Brasch, The Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 109 (1), February, 2015
"The book follows a roughly chronological timeline from the late eighteenth century to the present day. [...] The text is aimed at the general reader, though there are plenty of references to scholarly sources for those who want to explore further. [...] All in all, Galactic Encounters is an excellent work that will appeal to everyone interested in the deep sky, as well as to historians of astronomy."
– Lee Macdonald, Journal of the British Astronomical Association, Issue 3, 2015
"The book is written starting from the earliest observations and scientists and continues all the way to twenty first century. [...] The book is also suitable for general readers with maybe less background in physics or astronomy, as you don't need any mathematics to fly through the book and observations described within. [...] 'Galactic Encounters' is very interesting, thorough and well-illustrated."
– Kadri Tinn, AstroMadness.com, December, 2014