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Curiosities of the Sky

Curiosities of the Sky by Garrett P. Serviss
By: (1851-1929)

Is there intelligent life on Mars? Why are there starless gaps in the Milky Way? What creates the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights? These and more are the interesting questions that are asked and sought to be answered in the 1909 book, Curiosities of the Sky by Garrett P. Serviss.

Garrett Putnam Serviss was an American astronomer and popular sci-fi writer. He believed that science should be understood and enjoyed by everyone, not just by scientists. Though he was trained as a lawyer, he went to work as a newspaper reporter with The New York Sun in 1867. Here he discovered that he had an innate talent for explaining and describing scientific matter in a way that made it accessible to the ordinary public. Andrew Carnegie was struck by the talent of the young reporter and invited him to deliver a series of lectures on different subjects like cosmology, geology, astronomy and other such topics. Carnegie funded a country wide lecture tour and supplied Serviss with magic lantern slides and material to supplement his talks and make them more interesting. After the two year long lecture tour, Serviss decided to dedicate his life to the cause of popularizing science.

He wrote more than fifteen books on different aspects of science. However, astronomy remained his favorite subject and he devoted eight books to this topic. Science fiction writing and short stories were also his forte.

Curiosities of the Sky went on to become an extremely popular astronomy classic. It has been constantly revised and updated over the years as new discoveries are made and our knowledge of the universe expands. What makes the book so delightful is the engaging, poetic style and its wonderful eye for descriptive details. He also speculates about life on Mars and the Moon and the possible benefits of engaging with life forms on other planets and stars. Serviss' preface to the book itself makes interesting reading.

What the author has attempted to do in Curiosities of the Sky is to convey the mystery and celestial beauty of the universe in a way in which readers understand not just the insignificance of the tiny planet we inhabit, but he also seeks to stimulate interest and curiosity about everything around us. He ends with the frank confession that we really know very little about astronomy, but the theories and knowledge that we do have should spur us to explore further.

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