The Power of Stars

Welcome to the Power of Stars web site. This is the site for information related to the new archaeoastronomy book published by Springer Verlag entitled “The Power of Stars – How Celestial Observations have Shaped Civilization,” by Dr. Bryan E. Penprase of Pomona College. In the book, we explore the many ways in which ancient and modern civilization are shaped by the heavens. We explore sky lore, constellations, cosmologies, timekeeping, alignment of structures, and even relics of ancient traditions that survive to the modern day. The book also includes an exploration of modern cosmology at the end to enable a complete telling of how cultures from around the world (including our own) describe the universe around us.


Above: Power of Stars covers – first edition from 2010 (left), and new second edition from 2017 (right)

This site provides a glimpse of some of the chapters in the book. If you are interested in booking an appearance by Dr. Penprase, please use the Contact section of the web site, or email Dr. Penprase directly at

In case you wanted a digital version of the Power of Stars, which can be read on your laptop computer, iPad, or Nook device, the Power of Stars is now available as an electronic book from Google Books. You can purchase the Power of Stars, and have digital versions of its 200 color figures, through the link below.

Google ebook link for “Power of Stars”

The Book Flyer from Springer is available at the link below:

Second Edition of The Power of Stars: Now Finished!

In collaboration with many of my colleagues at Yale-NUS College, and with the patience of Springer, Inc., I happy to report that I have completed my second edition of the Power of Stars book. The new chapters have all been submitted and the publisher is happy to accept these as a new edition to appear some time around April 2017. The new edition has benefited from my time living here in Singapore and includes new sections on ancient astronomy within India, Australia and China, with original photographs and new digital graphics based on travels throughout Asia since 2014.
The new edition includes several improvements – these are listed below:
  • Chapter 1 includes new sections on Native American sites such as Chimney Rock and Hovenweep with photographs from site visits, new information on Mercury and Venus transits, and new figures to help guide amateur observers in their viewing of planets.
  • Chapter 2 includes new sections on Hawaiian and Polynesian navigation, finding guides for some of the main star clusters, nebulae and galaxies in major constellations, new information on the Inuit skylore, and improved sections on Indian observational astronomy and observatories.
  • Chapter 3 includes expanded sections on Aboriginal Australian creation, a new section on the ancient Hindu creation stories, and figures from trips to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and Mammalapuram, India.
  • Chapter 4 includes updates on the Chinese cosmologies, and an extensive description of Hindu and Buddhist Cosmologies.
  • Chapter 5 includes new photographs and information from the Purple Mountain Observatory, Nanjing, China, and an expanded section on Chinese calendars and timekeeping.
  • Chapter 6 includes an update on the Antikythera mechanism, including figures from reconstructions of the device based on new research, and updates on the rapidly developing world of atomic clocks – which have improved by more than a factor of 100 since the first edition.
  • Chapter 7 includes the research on Stonehenge, photographs of the Hovenweep site at summer solstice, additional information on Islamic city orientations, a description on new research with lidar to uncover lost cities near Angkor Wat, and an extensive analysis of orientation of shrines and temples in Tamil Nadu based on site visits during 2014.
  • Chapter 8 includes an improved section on Turrell’s artistry, and an updated look at the top skyscrapers – soon to be joined by ever-taller skyscrapers that attempt to defy the laws of physics and architecture in their reach for the stars.
  • Chapter 9 includes updates on the latest research on Dark Energy and Dark Matter, including new images of dark matter from the Hubble Space telescopes, an update in the largest telescopes of the world, and a mention of the discovery of the Higgs Boson and its connection to the early universe.
  • Chapter 10 retains its philosophical tone, but adds a summary of the “concordance cosmology” with updated results from new types of cosmic ray and neutrino detectors, and new information on the discovery of gravitational radiation and its profound impact on our understanding of the universe.

A sample of some of the new images within the Second Edition are below.

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Excerpt from The Power of Stars:

“We often hear that we live in a “global community” in which we are linked together across the Earth.The links we usually consider are materialistic – financial transactions, Internet services, trading of goods from distant continents. Yet we are also linked in a more profound way, as citizens of the Earth, surrounded by the planets of the solar system and the dazzling constellations of the night sky. Before international trade and before the Internet, humans looked up at the night sky, and traded tales and theories of what it all means. Many of the tales endure in oral tradition, in mythology, and in more subtle forms…..”

“The response of ancient people to the power of stars speaks to us across the centuries with a mysterious voice which resonates within us and somehow moves us as we recognize many familiar emotions from ancestors long past. The voices are stilled and, in many cases, canopies of jungle or vast deserts have enveloped their lands. Yet the ancient monuments speak of our common humanity and our common longing for knowledge of the meaning of our physical universe.”

Complete Table of Contents (PDF file)

Chapter Listing

1. Our Experience of the Sky and Star Knowledge

2. A World of Constellations in the Night Sky

3. Creation Stories from Around the World

4. World Systems: Models of the Universe Throughout Time

5. Stars that Bind: Civilization, Calendars and the Sky

6. Modern Timekeeping and the Development of the Science of Time

7. Celestial Architecture: Monuments of the Sky

8. The Archaeoastronomy of Modern Civilization

9. The Development of Modern Cosmology

10. Concluding Thoughts


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