- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0471150576
- ISBN-13: 978-0471150572
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,040,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be 1st Edition
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*Starred Review* Mackenzie prefaces his absorbing account of the new "giant impact" theory of the moon's origin with the fascinating story of humanity's long relationship with Earth's only natural satellite. Evidence of that relationship begins with what is very probably a lunar calendar among the famous Lascaux cave paintings, and continues in early civilizations' timekeeping uses of the moon and classical Greek ideas about the moon's composition. In the fifth century B.C.E., Anaxagoras correctly realized that the moon was made of rock. Later, Aristotle didn't agree, and his view held sway for centuries. During the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Kant, Buffon, and Laplace vastly expanded knowledge and theory about the moon-Earth relationship. Charles Darwin's son George (1845-1912) performed prodigies of calculation to argue that the moon "fissioned" from Earth. American crank T. J. J. See and modest Frenchman Edouard Roche pioneered, respectively, two other lunar-origin theories: See, that Earth "captured" the moon when it passed close by; Roche, that Earth and the moon "coaccreted" in the same part of the solar system. The findings of the Apollo expeditions and the enormous mathematical calculations facilitated by computers helped put forth astronomer and artist William Hartmann's idea that a near-Mars-size planet smashing into Earth produced the moon. Mackenzie is a popular-science ace--magnetically readable, preternaturally clear, amazingly concise. Consider this the popular moon-science book of our times. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
&fascinating! For everyone with even the slightest interest in astronomy&an insightful and entertaining read& -- M2 Best Books, 14 July 2003
"...Dana Mackenziereveals the truth..." (The Mail on Sunday, 30 March 2003)
"...this is a most useful and interesting book..." (New Scientist, 7 June 2003)
"A most useful and interesting book." (Patrick Moore in New Scientist)
"...an absorbing and informative account of the quest to explain the genesis of the moon..." (Astronomy & Space, June 2003)
"...fascinating! For everyone with even the slightest interest in astronomyan insightful and entertaining read..." (M2 Best Books, 14 July 2003)
"Besides telling an interesting tale well and elucidating how science progresses, Mackenzie's book emphasizes the fact that impacts have been the primary creative and destructive process throughout the history of the Solar System." (NATURE)
"The Big Splat is a superb exploration of an important chapter in the history of Earth and its satellite. Every Moon-buff will want a copy." (Astronomy)
"...a comprehensive travelogue of lunar nativities throughout history..." (Astronomy Now, March 2004)
"...a comprehensive travelogue of lunar nativities throughout history..." -- Astronomy Now, March 2004
"...this is a most useful and interesting book -- New Scientist, 7 June 2003
"...this is a most useful and interesting book " -- New Scientist, 7 June 2003
" Dana Mackenzie reveals the truth " -- The Mail on Sunday, 30 March 2003
" an absorbing and informative account of the quest to explain the genesis of the moon " -- Astronomy & Space, June 2003
" fascinating! For everyone with even the slightest interest in astronomy an insightful and entertaining read " -- M2 Best Books, 14 July 2003
Dana Mackenzie reveals the truth -- The Mail on Sunday, 30 March 2003
an absorbing and informative account of the quest to explain the genesis of the moon -- Astronomy & Space, June 2003
fascinating! For everyone with even the slightest interest in astronomy an insightful and entertaining read -- M2 Best Books, 14 July 2003
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Those interested in science, astronomy, and the history of thought should place this book high on their reading list. It is hard to put down until finished. After reading this volume, few of us will ever again look at the moon without greater interest, understanding, and awe.
"The Big Splat: Or How Our Moon Came to Be" by Dana Mackenzie is a concise and exceptionally readable account of how a significant but divisive scientific question came to be settled through the investigation of the Moon made possible by sending human and robotic missions there in the 1960s and 1970s. The Kona conference established a consensus in favor of a theory of origins known as the "big whack," or "big splat." Two scientists working independently, William Hartmann and Alastair Cameron, first advanced the theory in 1974 that the Moon had been formed by debris from a massive collision with the Earth about 4.6 billion years ago. This theory was predicated on the study of lunar rock and soil samples returned from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, and over the course of the next decade further analysis allowed scientists to resolve most of the questions plaguing other theories of lunar origin by applying the "big splat" hypothesis.
So contentious had the question of lunar origins been prior to the Apollo program, as Mackenzie shows, that many scientists just threw up their hands in frustration at ever being able to develop a reasonable hypothesis. Confusion ruled among scientists about the Moon's origin as competing schools battled among themselves for dominance of their particular viewpoint in the textbooks. Indeed, some expressed concern that determining the Moon's origins should be the single most significant scientific objective of Project Apollo, thinking of it as a hopeless objective.
Their concern was legitimate based on what had gone before. Prior to the Apollo missions the origin of the Moon had been a subject of considerable scientific debate and careers had risen and fallen on championing one or another theory. Prior to the 1960s there had been three principal theories:
1. Co-accretion--a theory which asserted that the Moon and the Earth formed at the same time from the Solar Nebula.
2. Fission--a theory that asserted that the Moon split off from the Earth.
3. Capture--a theory that held that the Moon formed elsewhere and was subsequently drawn into orbit around the Earth.
The data supporting these various theories had been developed to an amazingly fine point over time but none of these theories actually explained enough open questions to convince a majority of planetary scientists.
As Mackenzie recounts in "The Big Splat," the new and detailed information from the Moon rocks pointed toward an impact theory--which suggested that the Earth had collided with a very large object (as big as Mars and named after the fact "Theia")--and that the Moon formed from the ejected material. This proved to be a theory that fit the fact that although the Earth has a large iron core the Moon does not, because the debris blown out of both the Earth and the impactor would have come from iron-depleted, rocky mantles. Also lending credence to this theory, although the Earth has a mean density of 5.5 grams/cubic centimeter the Moon's density is only 3.3 g/cc, which would be the case were it to lack iron, as it does. The Moon has exactly the same oxygen isotope composition as the Earth, whereas Mars rocks and meteorites from other parts of the Solar System have different oxygen isotope compositions. While there were some details to this theory that have yet to be worked out, the impact theory came out as the consensus at the Kona conference and is now widely accepted. In the end, further research will be required but all evidence to date seems to fit into the confines of this giant impact theory.
"The Big Splat" also offers a wonderful affirmation of the scientific method as a self-correcting system of knowledge. Clinging to the marketplace of ideas, it insists that practitioners explicate their theories in a manner that is rigorous, peer-reviewed, and replicable. In all cases, the mode of science is to seek to disprove or at least modify these new theories. Doing so helps to self-correct the state of knowledge, and there is no higher calling in science. Of course, this road to scientific understanding is rugged and winding, and "The Big Splat" states this well in the context of lunar origins. What we learn is that scientific understanding is infinitely more complex, convoluted, interesting, and significant than most popular conceptions allow. Dana Mackenzie is to be commended for showing this process in detail and in so doing restates the positive nature of the process. Apply this case study to the major scientific debates of the present, of which there are many, and it is apparent that there are few easy answers.
Dana Mackenzie has written as fascinating detective story in which scientists act as Sherlock Holmes deciphering discreet but imperfect clues to piece together the set of incidents that led to the formation of the Moon. "The Big Splat" is a wonderfully written science story. It will be of interest to historians, non-specialist readers, and students of all types.
It's difficult today to view the Moon as the ancients did. Once, it was considered a disc. Even whether its light came from the sun or originated from the lunar surface was disputed. The nature of the markings, Mackenzie explains, was equally contentious. The dark areas were finally deemed "seas" and the Latin "maria" remains with us today. After Galileo determined the moon was cratered, the origins of these enigmatic forms opened new discussion. Volcanoes held sway as their origin, although no Earth vulcanism had produced caldera of such size. Meteor impact was viewed with suspicion in an age when catastrophic events were looked on with cautious scorn.
The moon's effect on the oceans was realised in ancient times, brought strongly to further awareness as Europe sent ships to far shores. Tidal predictability became a normal calculation, but much about tidal forces remained mysterious, Mackenzie reminds us. Examining tidal action would help lay the foundation for the most likely mechanism of the Moon's formation.
Although Mackenzie introduces us to many thinkers on the lunar phenomenon, the key figure is Ralph Baldwin. In the midst of growing debate about the lunar craters, Baldwin had the temerity to suggest that one impact had formed a significant part of the lunar surface. The debate was resolved, of course, by the Apollo landings. Among the rocky souvenirs brought back from those explorations were some green, glassy samples. These objects can only be formed by high speed impact of solid bodies. Deep in the past, The Moon had bombarded by meteors. Some of the bolides had been large, and their origin remained in question.
One object had far greater impact than anything the lunar surface implies. It was the body that had led to the formation of the Moon itself. Mackenzie's "great splat" is the analysis of lunar material that revealed the Moon is made up of Earth-like surface material. The Moon doesn't have the iron core typical of rocky planets. The reason for this is that the Moon didn't co-form when the Earth did. The Moon was the result of a Mars-size planetoid striking the Earth shortly after its formation. The impact drove a mass of material into space which coalesced to form our satellite.
Mackenzie's lively account is an excellent read and highly informative. He deals ably with some tough questions and cantankerous characters. Scientific dispute is often entertaining, particularly when the reader has little stake in the outcome. Yet, anything that advances research should be given attention and this book deserves yours. In demonstrating that questions about the Moon are still with us, Mackenzie's final chapter examines the strange story of conspiracy theorists who contend none of the Apollo landings took place. It's easy to dismiss this kind of thinking until you become aware of how many accept the notion. He deals with it carefully, asking the questions and dismissing the idea with carefully developed answers. This finale is almost worth the price of the book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]