The Secret Life of Stars

The Secret Life of Stars: Astrophysics for Everyone
Written by Lisa Harvey - Smith
Illustrated by Eirian Chapman
Non Fiction, Science
Thank you to Thames & Hudson Australia
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We all know the Sun, the powerhouse of our solar system, but what about Luyten’s Flare, the Rosino - Zwicky Object or Chanal’s variable star? For those whose curiosity takes them far beyond Earth’s atmosphere, The Secret Life of Stars offers a personal and readily understood introduction to some of the Galaxy’s most remarkable stars.

Each chapter connects us to the various different and unusual stars and their amazing characteristics and attributes, from pulsars, blue stragglers and white dwarfs to cannibal stars and explosive supernovae. With chapter illustrations by Eirian Chapman, this book brings to life the remarkable personalities of these stars, reminding readers what a diverse and unpredictable universe we live in and how fortunate we are to live around a stable star, our Sun.

Stars are born, they age before slowing succumbing to the inevitable, their ashes returned to the cosmos. Anaximander and Aristotle, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton and Neil Degrasse Tyson, composers and artists, our universe captivates humankind, our sense of wonder and curiosity has inspired generations of scientists and amateur astronomers. Written in engaging and accessible language, The Secret Life of Stars, Astrophysics for Everyone is fascinating and entertaining, a wonderful reference infused with humour, wonder and whimsy. 

Lisa Harvey - Smith is a decorated astrophysicist, an engaging and inspirational ambassador, an Astronomer, Author and Broadcaster. I had the privilege of asking Lisa about our universe, our Australian space agency, advances in astrophysics and her advocacy of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Please welcome Lisa Harvey - Smith.

Why do you suppose humans are captivated by our universe and in particular, the night sky?

Human beings have wondered at the night sky for tens of thousands of years. It's a work of art, a thing of beauty and a rich scientific playground for people like me. 

Do you remember the moment you chose to pursue astrophysics as a career and the inspiration behind your decision?

I fell in love with the night sky after spotting the planet Mars with my Dad in the garden. I was 12 years' old and I never looked back. I knew that astronomy was my passion and I had to make it a career. Aged 15 I was already determined to become a researcher and find out more about our incredible universe. I'm glad I did!

The Australian Government established the Australian Space Agency and are investing in the Moon to Mars mission, how will this impact the astrophysics and research community now and in the future?

The Moon to Mars program, led by NASA and including many international partners, will be a science and technology extravaganza. The aim is to land people, including the first woman - finally, on the Moon in 2024 then to build bases and infrastructure towards a crewed landing on Mars around 2030. It is tremendously exciting for Australia to be part of the technology development towards these missions. Scientifically, it will bring a greater understanding of the history of our solar system but more importantly it will galvanise a new generation of scientific and technological discovery that will hopefully bring benefits to us here on Earth.  

I recently watched The Planets documentary series with Professor Brian Cox, whom you worked with on Stargazing Live and you've toured Australia with Buzz Aldrin, is there anyone else within the scientific community you would love the opportunity to collaborate with?

I've been very fortunate to work with many exciting and accomplished people from the space industry, including three Apollo moon walkers with whom I toured the nation with live stage shows. I would love to work with more rockstar astronauts like Mae Jamieson or Samantha Christoforetti, to show young people that women are exploring the frontiers too. I would have loved to have met the late Sally Ride, the first female US astronaut. As a badass astronaut and a queer icon, she was a real role model of mine. 

Under the Stars and The Secret Life of Stars are both wonderful reads, what inspired you to write accessible and engaging reads about space and astrophysics? 

I get bored easily! No, truly I get frustrated at people who manage to make science boring, when it is absolutely the closest thing we have in this world to magic. I believe that astronomy is for everyone, and by writing fun and engaging books about the natural world I hope to open up the magic of science to everyone. 

I read that you worked on the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory in remote Western Australia, can you share how you were involved and how the observatory will influence the field of astronomy?

I was for several years the CSIRO Project Scientist for the Square Kilometre Array telescope and later for its Australian pathfinder in outback Western Australia. These telescopes are new, cutting edge radio antennas that enable us to study the past 10 billion years of cosmic history. I was involved in designing and commissioning the new telescopes and their vast computing and data centres. I also used the telescopes to conduct scientific research, weighing a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy to check it was working correctly. Exciting stuff!

You're a wonderful advocate of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics studies and careers, can you tell me about your role as an ambassador?

As the Australian Government's Women in STEM Ambassador my role is to increase the participation of women and girls in STEM study and careers. I advise government on policy, work with STEM peak bodies and organisations, conduct research and projects, create resources and run national campaigns to break down stereotypes about STEM. The end goal is to reduce barriers to women's participation in STEM careers and to make workplaces fairer and better for everyone. You can follow Australia's Women in STEM Ambassador on socials or visit to find out more. 

And lastly, what is your favourite fact about space that few people would know about?

Eight hundred and twenty-two light years away in the constellation of Cygnus lies a rocky planet called Kepler - 1652b. It sits in the solar system's habitable zone, which means there could potentially be liquid water on its surface. Oh, and did I mention that it has four Suns? Yep - if there is alien life on that planet, they would definitely need the factor 50 sunscreen. But with no night time, how would they sleep?


  1. I actually taught astronomy for a while and took an excellent astrophysics course when I was working on my masters degree. This is a field that is still growing in leaps and bounds, so I think that's why it piques my interest. As we advance our equipment, we are able to learn more and more, and go further and further out there.

    1. That sounds absolutely amazing! It's a field that'll always be pushing the boundaries being wonder and science. There's just something incredibly romantic about stars, the discovery of space and something as simple as stargazing is within the reach of everyone, probably why we're all fascinated by what's beyond our skies.

  2. I feel like you're always reading amazing books I've never heard of! You're so bad for my TBR. ;) This one really does sound lovely. I took astronomy in 8th grade and we took a trip to Houston one weekend - - so much fun. It's an experience I can still remember vividly, although I wish I could forget the alligators/crocodiles that hang out around the paths you have to walk on. TERRIFYING.

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

    1. Oh gosh no, that sounds horrifying! Visiting Houston must have been an amazing experience though. I would have loved to have pursued a career within the sciences but when I was at school, it was still very much male dominated and attending a girls school, they focused more on what were typically female fields sadly.

  3. I love what she said about making astronomy accessible to everyone - she is the type of person I needed i my science classes growing up!

    1. She's such a remarkable advocate for women in science isn't she! It's inspiring for girls wanting to pursue sciences and in particular, astrophysics. The Secret Life of Stars is a brilliant gift this Christmas for everyone, young women especially, it'll encourage and inspire the next generation of scientists. It's funny, informative and written so beautifully.

  4. I loved this book so much. It's sparked my love of stargazing again and I've been attempting to share it with my boys <3

    Awesome interview Ladies :-)


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