The Universe in a Mirror

The Universe In a Mirror, Book Cover
From Princeton University Press, June 2008

Buy an autographed copy!

More than any other scientific instrument invented since Galileo first looked through a spyglass in 1609, the Hubble Space Telescope has helped to reshape our view of the universe. As I wrote in chapter 7, "Here was truth, staring us all in the face."

Yet the effort to build this space telescope was long, hard, painful, and often destructive to the individuals involved. It is my hope that with the publication of The Universe in a Mirror, some of that pain and loss can be repaired, and that the men and women who sacrificed much to make this achievement possible will get the credit they truly deserve.

"Zimmerman demonstrates the importance of vision, perseverance, politics, and good luck in getting this national telescope constructed, fixed, and operated. He also illustrates, somewhat poignantly at times, the human costs and disappointments that came up along the way." --J. Michael Shull, University of Colorado at Boulder
"For everyone who knows something of the story of the space telescope and its travails, this book provides a fascinating look behind the scenes. An excellent contribution to the history of technology." --Robert P. Kirshner, author of The Extravagant Universe
"Spectacular images of the cosmos from the Hubble Space Telescope have become so routine that it's easy to forget the astronomical community's despair in 1990, when NASA discovered that the main mirror was improperly shaped. In The Universe in a Mirror, Robert Zimmerman brings the visionaries behind this most remarkable of instruments vividly to life, taking us artfully through the decades--long minefield of lobbying, funding, design, construction, delay after the Challenger explosion and launch--and then through the Hubble's near-death experience as astronomers realized to their horror that its mirror was ground to the wrong shape. His meticulously researched but engaging prose makes it clear how remarkable an achievement the telescope actually was, and how easily it might not have happened at all." --Michael D. Lemonick, contributing writer to Time and lecturer at Princeton University
"Quite a story. I really liked this book." -- John Huchra, Harvard University

Read the first chapter! [pdf]

Read the Wall Street Journal review by Glenn Reynolds.

Read the Wall Street Journal article by Daniel Henninger.

Read the New York Times review by Dennis Overbye.

Read an interview of the author for

Read an excerpt from the book describing two of Hubble's biggest discoveries.

Named to Booklist's Top Ten Sci-Tech Books for 2008.

Named to the long list of thirteen books eligible to win the 2009 Royal Society Prizes for Science Books.

Read my thoughts upon taking the Page 99 test for page 99 of "The Universe in a Mirror."

Check out the reviews on's webpage.


One comment

  • Hugh

    A sequel is needed. The launching of x ray and gamma ray telescopes (e.g. Chandra and Fermi) that continue to expand knowledge of the universe makes possible new branches to astronomy. The observation of neutron stars is now possible, for example, even though they emit little visible light
    One such neutron star was observed to emit gamma rays in bursts at specific frequencies. The rest of the spectrum of X-rays and gamma rays was missing. The reason postulated was that the intense magnetic field of the star interacted with electrons that would emit this radiation. No longer would the radiation be emitted until energies reached quantum levels (Landau levels). Surprisingly, this phenomenon may have an earthly application.
    Fusion experimenters have long been frustrated by the need to heat fusion plasmas. The usual method is to use electron beams to do this, but they naturally lose energy by radiating X-rays (bremsstrahlung radiation). Dynamic fusion techniques using collapsing magnetic fields provide an opportunity to use more of the injected electron energy for plasma heating.

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