The online column “Piazza Navona” is happy to talk to you about books with an article dedicated to the essay “Understanding Gaia. A Mission to Map the Galaxy” (Springer Praxis Books) written by Gabriella Bernardi and Alberto Vecchiato. A journey to discover the Gaia mission and its scientific value.
Understanding Gaia. A Mission to Map the Galaxy is the first book dedicated to the Gaia mission of the European Space Agency. In this volume the authors Gabriella Bernardi – graduated in physics with a Master in Science Communication – and the astrophysicist Alberto Vecchiato tell with extreme simplicity and comprehensibility what are the objectives and importance of this mission explaining the birth and evolution of this project astronomical, astrometric and scientific. What is Gaia? Gaia – that resumes the work carried out by the previous mission Hipparcos or High Precision Parallax Collecting Satellite of 1989 – is the satellite launched into space on 19 December 2013 with the aim of compiling a catalogue of over a billion stars of our galaxy recording its creation, positions, distances and movements.
This mission has a great importance from the scientific point of view because thanks to the collected data it will be possible to study, deepen and understand the evolution, the life of the celestial bodies and the speed of their movements, the creation and the origin of the Milky Way and dark matter. Through the twelve chapters that make up the scientific essay, the author accompanies us by guiding us (literally) by the discovery of our universe explaining, with a simple and passionate language, the basics of astronomical science, astrometric and their undisputed importance in the evolution and scientific study of matter. A real journey into space, between the stars and the celestial bodies of great interest and high thickness.
About the book
In 2019 the German publishing house Springer Praxis Books founded in Berlin in 1842 by Julius Springer published the scientific essay Understanding Gaia. A Mission to Map the Galaxy written by Gabriella Bernardi and Alberto Vecchiato. The book, in fact, is a sort of deepening of a previous volume that Gabriella Bernardi had already dedicated to the launch of the Gaia mission. Understanding Gaia is a very interesting essay of scientific popularization whose greatest merit is to offer the reader – especially the one far from the astronomical world and, precisely, scientific – an explanation of the mission Gaia, of its creation, its meaning and its importance through a simple language, clear, accessible, usable without losing precision and scientific punctuality. We can well say that Understanding Gaia is a real gift that the two authors make to readers. The volume, accompanied and enriched by examples, data, illustrations, helps the latter to immerse themselves in the reading of the text that becomes more and more interesting arousing a lot of curiosity and desire to discover, to bring ever closer those stars and the celestial bodies of which he tells with so much passion and abundance of details.
The text tells us of the Gaia mission starting from the basis of the scientific principles that moved and brought to completion and completion. The two scholars take us by the hand explain with the simplicity of those who made his the principles of the Nobel Prize in Physics Albert Einstein according to which
If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.
In this way the Authors put themselves on a par with the Readers and seem to discover with them the data, the possible results, the expectations, the future steps of Science and the new hopes that open to tomorrow transforming this encounter with the universe and the wonder of the celestial bodies that inhabit it almost in a game but in the noblest sense of the term. A game that gives us the opportunity to create an interesting and valuable knowledge in the scientific field by giving us the tools to understand what would otherwise be very difficult to approach and understand. And not only that: giving us the most precious reading and discovery offer… a continuous and always new curiosity.
Do not miss the reading of Understanding Gaia. Don’t miss this illuminating journey into the universe to discover our… stars and the darkest, mysterious and hidden sides of space.
Meeting with the Author
Why did you decide to dedicate your life to science especially to astronomy?
Why not? Probably the curiosity, or maybe everything started from chatting with my grandfather during the vacations, but I don’t remember well. When I was very young I started to buy popular astronomy books and the subject captured me.
You worked at Alenia Spazio in Turin for the Rosetta Mission. What can you tell us about this professional experience?
It’s was exciting to be part of the team and integrate, day by day, an object that after years would have reached a comet. In a way, I was jealous of it. At the same time, I was missing the research. For example, in an internal library of Alenia Space, I had found an interesting book about the comets, so I tried to talk about it with a colleague of mine. In particular about the probably that the cometary nuclei are not compact, but rather crumbles of pieces. Unfortunately, as engineers they were not interested in this matter. They used to repeat me: “ Do it, don’t ask yourself why!”. So, when I learned that the University of Turin was organizing a Master in Science Communication, I leapt at the chance and I started a new career in the word of science popularization.
How did you collaborate in the creation of the Planetarium and Museum of Astronomy and Space in Pino Torinese?
I was at the end of my master, and I had chosen a thesis about the realization of the Planetarium and Museum of Astronomy and Space. Among other things, I had been asked to imagine the layout of the museum, and I was proud that some ideas were accepted and realized. For example, in the hall, the visitor are welcomed by Hypatia of Alexandria, a philosopher of the antiquity that studied the sky. Then I wrote also a book about her and other scientists of the past.
How was born the publishing project of Understanding Gaia?
After the Master, I worked for some time in the Observatory of Turin, on a project of recovering a preservation of the old observational astronomical plates of the past century. Here there is also a large group that has been working for years on the Gaia mission, a satellite that is now mapping our galaxy from space. So, after several books for children or historical subject, it was natural to write about current astronomical research.
Gaia was launched in 2013 and expected to operate until 2022. How important will be the study of the data collected? How can they extend and explore the science of astronomy?
The Gaia mission will provide a complete and high-precision map of the positions, distances, and motions of the stars in our galaxy. It will revolutionize our knowledge on the origin and evolution of the Milky Way, on the effects of mysterious dark matter, and on the birth and evolution of stars and extrasolar planets. The final product will be a very accurate stellar catalogue, just ready for space exploration.
Through your book science is much more popular and easy to understand. What have the difficulties been of this operation?
There is no handbook that can teach you the best way to write a popular science book. When I was a guide in a scientific museum or cicerone in the planetarium, I got the lay of the land through people’s questions and then, as a scientific journalist, I read several books as reviewer.
Then I decided that I could start writing too, first for children and then for the general audience. My personal advice, when explaining something, is to avoid unnecessary complications, but never trivialize or use jokes. In both cases, the result is the same: the author will be hated, because the people are not stupid, the background is different and it is not a conversation among peers.
How is important popularizing science and astronomy for young readers and new generations?
It is fundamental, not only for astronomy. Kids are curios and without a scientific formation, so you have to find original ways to convey the message. For example, with an audience of very small children, I played with them, and I used a game to trigger their attention.
What are your next editorial and professional plans?
Actually, in Covid-19 emergency I can’t physically move for conference or visit science research center so I continue my job as a journalist and I’m working on new books. In my spare time I also tried to produce a pilot astronomical television news on YouTube. Stay tune on my blog astrocometal.
- On 16 June 2020