A new introductory textbook called Astronomy has just been published by OpenStax, a national, non-profit project to develop high-quality, introductory textbooks that are free to students. The publisher is located at Rice University and supported by several major foundations (including the Gates and Hewlett Foundations.) They have already done over 20 free textbooks in other fields, used by hundreds of thousands of students around the country.

Senior authors for the new non-technical astronomy text are Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College), David Morrison (NASA Ames Research Ctr.), and Sidney Wolff (National Optical Astronomy Observatory), who have had many years of experience writing texts and educational materials. The project had the help of over 75 astronomers and astronomy educators, to make sure that the text is up-to-date, authoritative, and educationally sound. None of the authors receive one penny of royalties.

The book is free to students in the electronic version, and can be custom printed on demand – at cost. Even more interesting, the book is open source, which means professors can use it as is, or develop their own electronic version of it, selecting only the sections they teach and adding course-specific curriculum materials.

The textbook is now available for review and adoption at: https://openstax.org/details/astronomy 

Featuring such current topics as the results from the New Horizons exploration of Pluto, the classification of exoplanets from Kepler and other projects, and the discovery of gravitational waves, the book is current and easily updated electronically. At the same time, it is written in everyday language specifically for non-science majors, with many analogies drawn from students’ lives, clear diagrams, the latest color images, and occasional touches of humor.

Math boxes throughout the chapters put topics on a quantitative footing for those who want to use math in their courses. Each chapter has math problems at the end. However, if a course doesn’t use math, these boxes and problems can easily be skipped. Chapters also include suggested collaborative group activities (especially useful for discussion sections), links to web resources, biographies of astronomers, interdisciplinary connections, and much more.

Ancillary materials are also being developed and the book will be compatible with several class management software systems.

At a time when both students and professors have so often thrown up their hands in despair over the growing cost of astronomy textbooks, OpenStax Astronomy makes a professionally-edited, high-quality text available world-wide without charge.