Stars Above, Earth Below: A Guide to Astronomy in the National Parks (Springer/Praxis, 2010)

Tyler Nordgren ’91

Reviewed by William Abernathy ’88
Tyler Nordgren

Astronomer Tyler Nordgren was taking a vacation in Yosemite when he first noticed it: how many visitors oohed and ahhed at their first glimpse of truly dark skies. For these visitors, the great sweep of the Milky Way was as strange and exotic a sight as the geysers of Yellowstone, the desolation of Death Valley, or the depths of the Grand Canyon.

In response, he wrote Stars Above, Earth Below, a charming guide to stargazing in America’s national parks. Each chapter is a meditation that ties a park to an astronomical body or phenomenon. A visit to Yellowstone, for example, touches on Western explorers and local Indian tribes, dwelling momentarily on the geology of terrestrial geysers before circumambulating to the Cold Faithfuls of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, with water’s triple point illustrated by a photo of Saturn framed in the boiling, flash-freezing vapors of Old Faithful on a snowy Yellowstone night. Along the way, Tyler deftly explains our evolving understanding of the cosmos with geology, ethno-graphy, travelogue, and memoir, sprinkling his own photography and whimsical astronomical artwork alongside park maps and star charts. The result is a quirky, enjoyable guide that deserves a spot in your camping box.