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ASTR 130: Origins and the Search for Life in the Universe: Getting Started

A guide to resources, tools, and tips for completing your final project for Origins and the Search for Life in the Universe.

Where to Find Information

The best way to find books related to life in the universe — and your star — is to use the library catalog in conjunction with Google Books previews. The library catalog will tell you that we have something. A book preview helps you verify that it is relevant.

If you are not on-campus and need to interact with library materials digitally, keep in mind that:

  1. We have a service called Scan and Deliver available on most records. You click "Request scan of an article/chapter →" and enter information about the chapters you need. We cannot scan an entire book due to copyright restrictions, but can generally scan up to 2 chapters. (I recommend using Google or Amazon book previews to verify which chapters you need.)
  2. If you need something online, you can send us a purchase request and specify that you want the book electronically.
  3. You can use faceted searching to narrow down to online-only books.

In the library catalog, you probably won't find something about your specific star. However, you will find information about the general type of star you're interested in, along with information about stars in general.

The best way to use the catalog is not to look up keywords. The word star is used in many different ways — it describes celestial objects, celebrities, the state of being very good at something, and so on. Here, we will look at subject term searches in both Quicksearch Books+ and Orbis that will help you get to books about the right kind of star.


The best way to view all of the stars-related subject headings at once is to use Orbis. Either click on the link directly here or go to and click on it in the Find, Request, and Use menu.

The link to Orbis on the main library site,, is in the Find, Request, and Use drop-down menu.

Once you click on the link to Orbis, go to the drop-down menu and select "Subject Browse." Type in the word stars and you will be taken to the results list — a place where you can browse by subject.

Orbis, with Subject Browse highlighted and the word "stars" in the search box.

The results show the subject categories used for stars. You will see both relevant and irrelevant results. Clicking on any of the links will take you to the list of books held by the Yale Library that are related to the topic. Here are some images of what that looks like.

Subject browse result for "stars"

Quicksearch Books+

Quicksearch Books+ also supports searching by subject, but it will not give you the list shown above. Instead, Quicksearch is useful when you want to start with a specific topic and browse around the subject keywords to see what you want to check out. The best way to access Quicksearch is to use the main library website. The large search box in the center of the screen goes directly to Quicksearch when you type in a search.

To do a subject search in Quicksearch, do a basic search for the subject. Here, I have chosen "stars" because that is broad. When we search, we will start at the "everything" page that shows us snippets from all types of resources at the library. We want to click on Books+ just below the search box.

Make sure you are in Books+ within QuickSearch — it will default to everything.

The subject search is hidden in the drop-down menu by the search box. We can switch to a subject search very easily.

We can narrow down to the Subject "stars" using the drop-down menu.

From there, you can check a record and view the subject terms for a book. Many of the books in our catalog will also have a space on the right-hand side for you to view the preview in Google Books, which will help you make a decision about whether you want to check the book out. You can also make your Scan and Deliver request by clicking "Request scan of an article/chapter →" and filling out a form.

The record for "the life and death of stars" with the clickable subject terms circled

Many people find very useful materials by viewing books and clicking on their subject headings (the broader or narrower term — that's why, in the screenshot, there's a > between Stars and Structure. The latter is a narrower term). An example is shown below. Note that sometimes, new catalog terms are created to reflect that there are more books available in a specific topic area. Older books may not have had changes made to their records.

The subject term Stellar Dynamics from the record we just looked at.

Google (or Google Scholar) are common places to start searching. The types of search operators (things you put in the box to structure a search a bit more) are the same in each.

A Google Scholar page showing a search for Iota Horologii with some operators for variant names.

One of the benefits of searching Google Scholar is the breadth of content. However, that is also its major shortcoming. When you search, you will find things from across all disciplines with no way to filter down to just the one you need. I recommend using Google Scholar in tandem with other tools (see the tabs for the ADS and other useful databases) to ensure that you can quickly find what you need.

General tips:

  • Word order matters. Google's algorithms assume that you are typing in terms that are in a similar order to the results you will want.
  • Be flexible. If you see many results from irrelevant fields, try to see what they have in common and subtract the word or phrase that those things seem to have in common. For example, if you see that the name of your planet is also the name of a pharmaceutical compound, try to subtract clinical, pharmaceutical, and other related terms from your search.
  • Use the quotation marks below each entry to grab a citation for every reference in Google Scholar — it will save time if you do this while you search.
  • Remember that not everything is online. The Library has document delivery services for books and articles we don't have.

Major operators:

  • Parentheses () help you structure a search via order of operations. This doesn't impact the search too much, as Google assumes that parts of your search next to each other are linked, but it does make complex searches easier to read.
  • Quotation marks "" will either (a) search as a phrase or (b) force Google to only show you results with a specific form of a word. Example: "extrasolar planet"
  • Minus sign - will subtract a word or phrase from your search. Example: exoplanets -"hot Jupiter"
  • author: will search for a specific author surname. Example: author:Fischer
  • AND will tell Google to force both terms to be in the results. Since AND is implicit, this doesn't impact the results that much unless you use parentheses.
  • All-caps OR will show you results using either one term or another. Example: "extrasolar planet" OR "extrasolar planets" OR exoplanet
  • An asterisk * between two words will try to fill in the blanks with other words. Example: "exoplanet * life"

And here's how you can string that together in a search — try it out!

  • ("HR 810" OR "Iota Horologii" OR "ι Hor" OR "Gliese 108" OR "HD 17051" OR "HIP 12653") AND exoplanet
  • HR 810 AND (exoplanet OR "extrasolar planet" OR "extrasolar planets")
  • exoplanet OR "extrasolar planet" OR "extrasolar planets" habitability
  • HR 810 -clinical
  • "HR 810" OR "HR810" habitability

The Astrophysics Data System is a tool used by everyone in the astronomy community, from undergraduates to professional astronomers to science journalists covering the field. It is an example of a subject-specific database — a tool customized for locating resources in a specific research area.

As a quick note, if you're looking for life sciences articles, I recommend going to the "Other Useful Resources" tab to take a look at other databases you can access.

The ADS homepage with a search filled in, the same Iota Horologii search we've been doing.

The front page of the ADS contains useful examples of the types of operators available to users. You can also type in free text or view the ADS help files to learn more about the less common ones. (For the purposes of your star assignment, you will likely not need to use those.)

You can choose refereed publications easily.

The results page has some interesting things that you may want to look at. There are filters on the left-hand side — these are useful! You can limit to peer-reviewed/refereed publications, which means that the article has been looked at by other scientists before publication. (Many professors ask students to limit their article use to peer-reviewed publications.)

Looking at SIMBAD object limits

You can also choose from SIMBAD Objects and NED Objects, which include the ability to limit to specific objects. (It's not human-generated, but based on text mining the astronomy literature corpus, so it sometimes misses things.)

An ADS record

The above is what you will see when you view a record. Note that there will be options for viewing the full text and related data products in the upper right.

Databases and Web Resources

National Academies Reports

If something from one of these reports jumps out at you, look at the citations for that section to see if there are academic articles that can give you more information. You can also explore the scientist bios in each report. These reports convene experts on panels to discuss and create important summaries, often at the request of Congress and government agencies. The scientists typically have a deep background in the area they have been asked to discuss within the group. Look up the authors in Google Scholar and other search databases.

Are you off-campus?

Use the VPN!

To access online resources from a non-Yale network, you will need to connect to the VPN using Cisco AnyConnect. Instructions on installing the VPN software are available here.

Remember to start your VPN client when you start doing research — not when you want to download something. Web sites use cookies to determine who should and shouldn't have access, and most access issues from off-campus happen when an older cookie doesn't refresh when the VPN connection is established. If that happens to you, clear the cookies for the web site you are visiting (or open a different browser) and try again.

Books on Life in the Universe

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