Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

Understanding the Universe
An Inquiry Approach to Astronomy and the Nature of Scientific Research


  • Date Published: April 2013
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521145329

£ 54.99

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:
Hardback, eBook

Request inspection copy

Lecturers may request a copy of this title for inspection

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • A student-active introduction to astronomy, emphasizing inquiry learning so students will clearly understand our universe and the scientific method. Within-text and end-of-chapter questions check understanding of concepts and require the student to think critically through astronomy-based problems. 'Nature of Science' and 'Detectives on the Case' sections in each chapter encourage students to take on the role of a scientist and so develop an understanding of how scientific progress is made, leading students through a chain of arguments of forming and testing hypotheses, in the context of specific astronomical topics. By focusing on key topics, the student is able to develop a deeper understanding of the core areas of astronomy. Math is used to make intuitive points and kept simple by using a two-track system to first describe the logic of the calculation followed by a more detailed example. Simple illustrations support the text and step students through concepts visually.

    • Student-active learning with an emphasis on inquiry learning focuses on how scientific theories are developed and regularly involves the student in the chain of arguments that lead to them
    • Focuses on core topics, so that a deeper understanding of the Solar System and the Universe can be developed
    • 'Detectives on the Case' and 'Nature of Science' sections acquaint students with science as a way of thinking, introduced throughout chapters in the context of specific astronomical topics
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    '… an inquiry approach that explores the nature of scientific research sets this book apart from other textbooks. The readings and exercises are scaffolded to allow the students to build their own understanding of the big ideas in astronomy. The separation into different math levels makes it appropriate for a wide range of classes. I really liked the problem sets that required students to describe the logic behind their solutions.' Mary Kay Hemenway, University of Texas, Austin

    'I have looked over the book and am impressed by what I see. Greenstein's new book is a compelling and powerful introduction to astronomy, laying bare the fundamentals of scientific arguments and the scientific process.' Steven Furlanetto, University of California, Los Angeles

    'Understanding the Universe delivers on its promises. It is indeed inquiry based, and overtly uses astronomy as a means to explore the nature of science. We 'Astro 101' teachers often describe our efforts as attempts to show how science operates, but then fail to teach that way. We revert to what Greenstein describes as the 'shut up and learn' mode. This uniquely personal book, conventional in its structure, but unconventional in its insistence on clear and conversational explanations of core concepts, is a noble attempt to get the students to do the learning. Greenstein's text does not merely tell students about the Universe; it helps them understand the Universe.' Bruce Partridge, Haverford College, Pennsylvania

    'George Greenstein has done an excellent job of clearly explaining the most important aspects of astronomy. His book brings the reader along on a journey of discovery and treats 'what we know' and 'how we know' as equally important. Exhorting students to actively participate rather than passively memorize reinforces a message that almost all instructors send. I encourage my colleagues teaching introductory astronomy to consider this book carefully.' Pauline Barmby, Western University, Ontario

    'This unique text provides a superb framework for introducing students to the approaches scientists take to solving problems. By posing a variety of 'mysteries' faced by both ancient and contemporary astronomers, gathering and presenting data, searching for patterns, asking questions, posing and testing hypotheses both qualitatively and quantitatively, Greenstein introduces his readers to the tools of the detective-scientist.' Stephen Strom, National Optical Astronomy Observatory

    '… an introductory textbook to be used in an astronomy course for nonscience majors, and I would definitely recommend it for that purpose …' Physics Today

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2013
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521145329
    • length: 658 pages
    • dimensions: 280 x 213 x 24 mm
    • weight: 1.43kg
    • contains: 513 b/w illus. 39 colour illus. 297 exercises
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Steps to Astronomy:
    1. The sky
    2. The origins of astronomy
    3. Gravity and orbits
    4. Light
    5. The astronomers' tools: telescopes and space probes
    Part II. The Solar System:
    6. Introducing the Solar System
    7. The inner Solar System
    8. The outer Solar System
    9. Smaller bodies in the Solar System
    10. Planets beyond the Solar System
    Part III. Stars:
    11. Our Sun
    12. A census of stars
    13. The formation of stars and planets
    14. Stellar structure
    15. Stellar evolution and death
    Part IV. Galaxies and the Universe:
    16. The Milky Way galaxy
    17. Galaxies
    18. Cosmology
    19. Life in the Universe

  • Resources for

    Understanding the Universe

    George Greenstein

    Find resources associated with this title

    Type Name Unlocked * Format Size

    Showing of

    Back to top

    This title is supported by one or more locked resources. Access to locked resources is granted exclusively by Cambridge University Press to lecturers whose faculty status has been verified. To gain access to locked resources, lecturers should sign in to or register for a Cambridge user account.

    Please use locked resources responsibly and exercise your professional discretion when choosing how you share these materials with your students. Other lecturers may wish to use locked resources for assessment purposes and their usefulness is undermined when the source files (for example, solution manuals or test banks) are shared online or via social networks.

    Supplementary resources are subject to copyright. Lecturers are permitted to view, print or download these resources for use in their teaching, but may not change them or use them for commercial gain.

    If you are having problems accessing these resources please contact

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Astronomy
    • Intro to Astronomy/Cosmology
    • Introduction to Stars, Galaxies & Cosmology
    • Our Evolving Universe
    • Physical Science ll: Astronomy
    • Revolutionary Ideas in Science
  • Author

    George Greenstein, Amherst College, Massachusetts
    George Greenstein is the Sidney Dillon Professor of Astronomy at Amherst College, Massachusetts. He is an accomplished writer, having written one textbook, three books on science for the general public and numerous magazine articles. One of his books won both the American Institute of Physics/US Steel science-writing award and the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science. Professor Greenstein is a recognized leader in the American Astronomical Society's effort to reform astronomy education in the United States. Some time ago he co-organized a series of workshops for department chairs of the most prestigious universities in the country, which led to a set of proposed goals for reform of introductory astronomy courses nationwide. Professor Greenstein's field of research interest is theoretical astrophysics.

Related Books

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×
warning icon

Turn stock notifications on?

You must be signed in to your Cambridge account to turn product stock notifications on or off.

Sign in Create a Cambridge account arrow icon

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.