“Wow! That’s way over my head,” my mother’s coworker said to me after I gleefully explained galaxies and black holes to her. I wasn’t in college for astronomy (yet). I wasn’t even in high school—that would come much later. I was 11 and had just finished an earlier edition of Noreen Grice’s Touch the Stars, an introductory book about astronomy written in braille and large print specifically for the blind. I was rereading my favorite parts and trying to share the wonders of our universe with whoever would listen to me.

This tactile image of the Milky Way is one of 19 such figures in Touch the Stars depicting celestial bodies and astronomical phenomena.

This tactile image of the Milky Way is one of 19 such figures in Touch the Stars depicting celestial bodies and astronomical phenomena.

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When I finally got to college and took an entry-level astronomy course, Touch the Stars was still helpful, although by that point I had practically memorized its contents. The book’s tactile illustrations, which were created by Irma Goldberg and Shirley Keller, depicted many of the topics covered in class, such as lunar phases, eclipses, planetary motion, and scale. That meant fewer images needed to be verbally described to me.

Touch the Stars has been a constant companion throughout my career in astronomy, and it is now in its fifth edition. The updated text includes references to more recent space probes and rovers such as New Horizons and Curiosity. The diagrams depicting lunar phases and eclipses are still useful to me: As recently as the past academic quarter, one of them was an invaluable help when I tutored an astronomy student who had trouble understanding the phases of the Moon.

Indeed, one of the book’s many strengths is the quantity and quality of its tactile graphics: They are superb and hold up over time. Touch the Stars and Grice’s other books on astronomy, which include Touch the Sun: A NASA Braille Book (2005) and Touch the Universe: A NASA Braille Book of Astronomy (2002), are some of the few books with tactile graphics that are intended for the general public. Even university-level blind students who are struggling to obtain braille textbooks will find Touch the Stars a great place to start. It also includes descriptions of how to navigate the images, which is great for young readers discovering tactile diagrams or for readers new to braille.

The descriptions of the illustrations also offer something unique: They make distinctions between conventions used in the book and observations of the sky. The most obvious example of that occurs when Grice describes constellations. The book helpfully explains that there are lines in the book, but no lines in the sky. To a blind reader without another frame of reference, that tidbit is crucial for understanding how observations differ from theory.

Another example occurs when Grice discusses a picture of a meteor shower: The description states that meteors may streak across the sky at a rate of one per minute, rather than the several per minute depicted in the drawing. A pocket in the back contains print versions of the included graphics so that all teachers can easily work with blind students.

Touch the Stars does a good job of covering the breadth of topics typically mentioned in a basic astronomy course. It also throws in some extras that cater specifically to blind readers, such as a description of how the sky looks on clear and cloudy days and nights. The book concludes with a brief history of how humans came to know our place in the universe. A line that captivated my imagination as a child still makes me smile now: “Numbers in space get very big very quickly.”

Rereading the book after my experiences with the more quantitative side of astrophysics was also enlightening. I was particularly struck by the foreword by Kent Cullers, who writes that the book “whets the appetite for real science.” It certainly did for me, as did Cullers’s personal story: He is a blind scientist who made a career in astronomy. His example convinced me that I too could work in the space sciences.

Although the book was written for readers as young as 10 years old, it can also be enjoyed by college students and adults. Younger readers will appreciate that when a scientist, spacecraft, or scientific word is mentioned for the first time, it is underlined and, in the latter case, defined. With its myriad of tactile graphics—there are 19 figures in all, some with multiple panels—Touch the Stars throws open the doors of the universe to blind people. Readers who are especially intrigued by specific topics will find ample jumping-off points for further exploration.

Grice’s book got me “touching” the stars all those years ago and started my journey in astronomy. I have no doubt that the new edition will do the same for many other students.

Chelsea Cook holds a BS in physics from Virginia Tech, where she also completed minors in astronomy and mathematics. She currently tutors in math and physics at the University of Denver.