Under Alien Skies: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Universe

By Phil Plait, Ph. D.

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From The Author

Under Alien Skies: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Universe is a wide-flung tour of the cosmos, from the Moon and Mars to Saturn and Pluto… and beyond our solar system to nebulae, star clusters, and even black holes. In each chapter I show you what it would actually be like to visit these distant locales, taking you there so you can experience the sights and sounds of these literally unearthly landscapes.

In a nutshell, this book is my answer to a question I get all the time when I talk about photos of incredible cosmic objects: “Is this what these things would really look like if you were there?”

The answer is almost always “no”, because what you see would be more fantastic, more bizarre, more mind-bending, than anything a simple picture can show you.

Each chapter starts with a short vignette, like a scifi microfic, which I use as a jumping-off point to talk about the weird and wonderful vistas we’ll visit. There are also plenty of illustrations (by artist Chris Jones) and color photos along the way, too.

How would it feel to watch a lunar eclipse from the Moon? Or to watch as a sandstorm approaches on Mars? Or to plunge inside a rubble pile asteroid, or float in an immense dirigible in Saturn’s atmosphere and see the rings from the other side? What would seasons be like on a Tatooine-like planet orbiting twin suns? What would you see flying through a vast star-making nebula and watch as young stars are born… or as you fell into a black hole?

Come find out. In Under Alien Skies, I’ll show you.

Under Alien Skies is published by W. W. Norton.

Phil Plait

What They’re Saying

“A rollicking, wondrous, and awe-inspiring introduction to the universe. Philip Plait’s writing transports us to other worlds and in the process helps us to appreciate our own world.”

― John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars and The Anthropocene Reviewed

“Reading Under Alien Skies is the next-best thing to traveling through space and time. Philip Plait is a funny, warm, and welcoming guide to the most marvelous places in the universe.… You’ll experience what it would be like to actually be there, while learning some of the most mind-expanding science humans have ever figured out. When you look up at the night sky, you’ll think of this book and smile.”

― Laura Helmuth, editor-in-chief of Scientific American

“Philip Plait takes us to nearby worlds and star systems far, far away, where we do plenty of exploration, a bit of astronomical science, and a lot of marveling. But it’s the descriptions of your spaceships and suits that will keep you strapped in and reading on. His flights of science fiction fantasy are scientific and absolutely spectacular. Enjoy the rides.”

― Bill Nye, CEO, The Planetary Society

“As charming and personal as it is detailed and accurate, Under Alien Skies is a wonderful guide to what we know about the universe and how we know it.”

― Zach Weinersmith, creator of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and New York Times best-selling co-author of Soonish

“Plait takes readers on an awe-inspiring tour of the cosmos in this dazzling outing…This will change how readers think about space.”

― Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[Plait’s] realistic depictions, grounded in human senses, awaken a feeling of wanderlust and make the esoteric feel real…It’s a remarkable journey.”

― John Keogh, Booklist

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Where To Find Phil