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The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be Hardcover – March 1, 2003
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"...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
- ASIN : 0471150576
- Publisher : Wiley; 1st edition (March 1, 2003)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780471150572
- ISBN-13 : 978-0471150572
- Item Weight : 1.11 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.34 x 0.86 x 9.32 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,247,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I would recommend this to everyone who shares my interest!
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.