Catching Stardust: Comets, Asteroids and the Birth of the Solar System (Bloomsbury Sigma)
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"An expert account." - Kirkus
". . . an informative and valuable introduction to the field, from an author clearly knowledgeable and passionate about her work." - Publishers Weekly
"A top-rate popular-science title." - Booklist Online
"Natalie Starkey has packed this book full of information on the minor bodies of our solar system, which are key to understanding how things got the way they are today – a must-have for anyone interested in where we came from." - Matt Taylor, ESA Rosetta Project Scientist
"Catching Stardust builds a strong case for why continuing to explore comets and asteroids is so important to understanding our past and in shaping our future." - Jessica Sunshine, Professor of Astronomy, University of Maryland
"An action-packed narrative that really draws in the reader to the thrills and challenged of exploring the true nature of our Solar System." - Lucy McFadden, Emerita at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre
"A fast-paced journey through time and space under the enthusiastic guidance of space geologist Natalie Starkey. Highly recommended." - Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary Sciences at The Open University
"Astonishing" - Simon Ing, New Scientist
"A promising debut" - Simon Ing, New Scientist
About the Author
Natalie Starkey has been actively involved in space science research for more than 10 years. Following a Ph.D. in Geochemistry at the University of Edinburgh, Natalie moved to the Open University, where her research focused on laboratory analysis of cometary and asteroid rock samples. This allowed her the opportunity to be involved in sample-return space missions, such as NASA Stardust and JAXA Hayabusa, and she was invited to be a co-investigator on one of the instrument teams for the groundbreaking ESA Rosetta comet mission.
Now living in California, Natalie regularly appears on television and radio internationally. She has written articles for The Guardian, where she undertook a British Science Association Media Fellowship, and she regularly contributes to The Conversation website. In 2014 she received a SEPnet award for Public Engagement in the Media and Communications category.
@starkeystardust / nataliestarkey.com
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Unfortunately, I think few readers will make it far in this book due to style deficiencies. The author says everything three times, as if she's lecturing to dull and inattentive students, and revisits the same topics in nearly the same words repeatedly. For example, "[T]he past 200,000 years of human existence. . .is an incredibly short interval compared with the age of the Earth. By using the age-old analogy of a 24-hour clock that started when the Earth formed and which reached midnight at the present day, it would show that humans arrived at a few minutes before midnight. Most of those 24 hours passed prior to the appearance of humans." It's not even accurate, humans arrived less than four seconds before midnight, not a few minutes. Also, and I admit this is minor carping, it's not an analogy, it's a scale comparison. By this means, many of the simplest ideas, which most readers of this book will likely already know well, are expanded out into paragraphs; and then repeated multiple times in the book.
Another comparison that the author devotes considerable attention to is the solar system as a city. She describes in considerable detail the rural farms and suburbanites speeding through the central city on express trains. But she never actually uses the comparison. It could be useful for scale (for example, if the sun is Rockefeller Center, the Earth is a 1.5 meter sphere in LaGuardia Airport, JFK Airport is in the asteroid belt, Cleveland is in the Kuiper belt and the moon is in the Oort cloud). Beyond that, it's hard to see much comparison. Commuters do not usually stay in the suburbs but occasionally make high speed trips through the central city. Rockefeller Center does not provide the radiation that heats the surrounding regions.
Other pointless comparisons in the book are space law to fishing law (because fishermen own what they catch, but not the water they fish in), the solar system as pinball machine (because lots of balls are whizzing around; although in most pinball machines there is only one ball most of the time) and asteroids to volcanoes (because they usually do no harm, but are sometimes catastrophic). The author is fond of comparisons for their own sakes, whether or not they illuminate anything, and sometimes seems to forget the point of the book in order to elaborate them.
A minor objection is the author is fond of using technical terms in non-technical contexts.For example, in a discussion of how extraterrestrial materials may have contributed to the origin of life on Earth she refers to "species of water" and "impact of understanding." Those are reasonable phrases in general, but "species" and "impact" are technical terms in the precise subject under discussion, and therefore are best avoided in figurative contexts.
The best part of the book is the author's detailed descriptions of the Stardust and Rosetta missions. Her writing tightens here and she gives crisp and precise information about how the two missions worked and what we have learned so far from the data they collected. If you have the patience to read this book you will learn a lot.
However, the narrative style is a bit haphazard mostly due to the uneven depth given to various topics - at times, the author explains how far various objects are using analogies ad nauseum, but then there are a few paragraphs that talk about presolar dust and its importance. They are expanded sometimes later on without referencing the earlier mentions - this makes it a tad difficult for the average reader not well-versed in the field. That minor irritation is more than overcome with the broad view Starkey paints for the reader, the topics cover an excellent range and depth - enough to pique one's curiosity and inform. (Being a ARC, unsure of the quality of the pictures included, but the number of pictures seem to be a bit stingy for a topic that could have captured a reader's imagination with a generous dose of pictures from the various missions referenced by the author).
The author uses a lot of association to make big mathematical scientific theory easier to comprehend to the lay person. Some of these work, some don’t, all are interesting. For me the two most attention-grabbing chapters were her analysis of the Stardust and Rosetta missions. The Rosetta was a space probe built by the European Space Agency launched on 2 March 2004. Along with Philae, its lander module, Rosetta performed a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov. Stardust was a robotic space probe launched by NASA. Its primary mission was to collect dust samples from the coma of comet Wild 2, as well as samples of cosmic dust, and return these to Earth for analysis.
I’d say that if you just like reading about light science for pleasure you’ll enjoy this easy to read, though fact filled book.
Top international reviews
At the heart of this book are the stories of two enthralling space missions which are of prime importance to the space dust story: Rosetta and Stardust. The descriptions given of the two missions really bring home what phenomenally bold and ambitious ventures they were. The remainder of the book sets out the framework and context of these missions, examining the importance of asteroids and comets in the history of the solar system and in the origins of life on Earth. The book does not just address historical matters however, as it also looks at future importance as well, with a chapter on the possibility of mining resources from asteroids and comets, and another about the need for the avoidance of collisions between the Earth and space objects.
Catching Stardust is a great read for anyone wishing to find out about asteroids and comets, and their place in the history of the Earth. This book tells you everything you could possibly want to know about the subject in a way which can be understood by someone without a scientific background. Natalie Starkey writes with great zest and enthusiasm, and with a conversational, rather than an academic tone.
The chapters on the two space missions are particularly interesting and well written and it wasn't until I read these two chapters that I realised that space mining is more than science fiction - it could be science fact within our lifetimes.
I have always been interested in the hardware of space exploration from watching the Apollo and Shuttle Orbiter programme and this book explains how that rocketry can be used to push science in space.
I've started reading the book again to pick up bits I may have missed on the first reading and the only thought that keeps occuring to me is how insignificant, as humans, we are in the great scheme of things.This book has made me think.
I recommend this book to anyone who has ever had that thought about what is out there in the universe.