As a science writer I am very fortunate that English is such a beautiful language with a wide and varied vocabulary. It allows me to describe the fascinating – and often complex – world of modern astronomy.

But in an intriguing thought experiment, astrophysicist Roberto Trotta’s book The Edge of The Sky sets out to tell the story of modern astronomy using only the 1,000 most common words in English.


A quick look at the list and the enormity of his task becomes clear. The word universe does not appear – instead Trotta employs ‘the all-there-is’. Telescopes become ‘Big Seers’. When we get to the gritty end of modern physics, cosmological inflation becomes ‘early push’ and supersymmetric particles are renamed ‘mirror drops’.

Trotta’s effort may at first seem like an eccentric exercise in self-flagellation. After all, we already have words for these concepts. And yet the result is something quite beautiful. The often jargon filled world of modern science is stripped back, revealing the beauty that got me hooked on physics and astronomy in the first place.

Part of the story is told from the perspective of a female scientist (‘student-woman’) and Trotta’s beautiful prose and odd concept make the narrative tumble on nicely. It has an air of innocence about it similar to ‘Curious Incident of The Dog in the Nighttime’.

It is certainly one of the most original attempts at popular science I’ve seen in quite some time.

Buy The Edge of the Sky on Amazon.