First Light – Switching on Stars at the Dawn of Time by Emma Chapman; Bloomsbury Sigma; 304 pages; February 2021; Hardcover: $28.00.

Ponder this in your next face-to-face with the nighttime sky: Think back in space and time when darkness gave way to light, a point in time when the very first stars burst into life.

Author Chapman has written a fascinating saga that sheds light on the first stars, far greater than our Sun and a million times brighter. They lived fast and died young in powerful explosions that seeded the Universe with the heavy elements that we are made of. Moreover, “the absence of observations from the era of the first stars is alarming your local astrophysicist for two reasons,” the author explains: imperfect data that equals erroneous conclusions and, secondly, the era of the first stars is distinctive.

Divided into 11 well-written, at times sobering with many shots of wit, Chapman delves into the “Epoch of Reionisation,” admittedly a terrible name, she adds, but represents the start of the cosmos as we experience it today.

What I found very edifying in the book is the author’s description of today’s tools-of-the-trade, from the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR), the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) to the James Webb Space Telescope and beyond. “We’re going to need a bigger dish,” Chapman explains, underscoring that the Universe is a cosmological surprise bag.

Emma Chapman draws from a professional career as a Royal Society research fellow and fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, based at Imperial College London. She is among the world’s leading researchers in search of the first stars to exist in our Universe.

The last line of the book sums up what the reader is advised to do given the author’s distinctive writing style and compelling words to engage and grapple with the unknown unknowns and sharply focus on the field of stellar archaeology: “Time to enjoy the show.”

For more information on this book, go to:

Also, go to this audio clip at:

Leave a Reply