Shrouds of the Night

Masks of the Milky Way and Our Awesome New View of Galaxies

  • David L. Block
  • Kenneth C. Freeman

About this book


The Milky Way has captivated the mind of multitudes ever since the beginning of time. Particularly striking are its apparent dusty gaping voids. With the advent of near-infrared technology, astronomers have discovered an awesome new view of its structure, and of the structure of other galaxies around us. Galaxies are encased within shrouds of the night: shrouds or veils of cosmic dust, which have given us a totally incomplete picture of what our majestic Universe actually looks like.

Shrouds of the Night features some of the  most remarkable early photographic work of masters such as Isaac Roberts and Edward Barnard, before presenting to the reader the unmasked (dust penetrated) view of our cosmos, using some of the world’s largest ground and space-based telescopes.

"Galaxies are the 'ecosystems' of the cosmos – vast assemblages in which gas and dust are recycled through successive generations of stars. The authors of this beautiful book describe our ever-sharpening view of the Milky Way, the galaxy that is our home – and the discovery of the other galaxies that are its neighbors in deep space. Their voyage lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. In fine images and eloquent text, the two distinguished authors convey the fascination – indeed the inspiration – of this scientific quest."

-Lord Martin Rees of Ludlow OM Kt PRS
Astronomer Royal, President of the Royal Society, Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, University of Cambridge.

"It's hard to decide what is most appealing about this unusual offering:
its brilliantly chosen treasury of illustrations, or the text's poetic
journey of discovery from smoke to galaxies, from the minuscule to the
gigantic and the astonishing connections between them.  Along the path are
rich insights into the varieties of astronomical seeing, from the history
of photography to the space telescopes that extend our vision beyond the
visible.  Historical connections are everywhere, from Jean Petit's
16th-century woodblock initials to excursions into a stately attic and to
photographic archives.  Enjoy the treat, including the reflections on the
deep meaning of it all!"

-Owen Gingerich
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, author of God's Universe


Barnard plates Birr castle lantern Galaxy Hubble Reynolds Hubble plagiarism astronomical photography pioneers astronomy astronomy and religion dust in the Milky Way first photograph M42 gas clouds milky way history of photography photograph photography stars

Authors and affiliations

  • David L. Block
    • 1
  • Kenneth C. Freeman
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Computational & Applied MathematicsUniversity of the Witwatersrand, JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.Research School of Astronomy and AstrophysicsThe Australian National UniversityWeston Creek POAustralia

Bibliographic information