- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st edition (August 11, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300080441
- ISBN-13: 978-0300080445
- Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 0.8 x 11.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,533,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Planets 1st Edition
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From School Library Journal
YA-A companion volume to the highly regarded, eight-part A & E television series by the same name. Amazing pictures from the space missions as well as computer graphics complement the highly informative and entertaining text. Sidebars abound with interesting tidbits about our solar system. Beginning with the story of the Kansas farm boy turned amateur astronomer who went on to discover the last planet in our solar system, the authors introduce each of the planets and the humans who have spent their entire lives bringing us closer to them. There is a fascinating narrative of "A field trip on the Moon" that chronicles the Apollo 15 mission and what the astronauts actually did as they walked about the moon's surface. The authors explain the implications of the latest information we've obtained about the planets and the Sun from the various space probes. They also look at the newest discoveries about the crust of the Earth. A book that has such a readable style and a wealth of up-to-date information is bound to be a valuable addition to any astronomy collection.
Cynthia J. Rieben, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The exotic natures of Earth's companions in the solar system are exuberantly displayed here. Although the emphasis is on space-age photography, the authors' text efficiently supports the visuals with contextual explanations of the discoveries. And, rather than dryly recite the Mercury-to-Pluto litany, they instead organize the text around commonalities: the planets' birth out of a condensing nebula, their accretion into either hard rocks or gas giants, their volcanism, their atmospheres, and their congeniality, past or present, to life. A chapter with bright orange images announces a tour into knowledge of the Sun and the titanic dynamism of its radiation and weather. Withal the science, it is the space missions that made possible the scientific discoveries that excite the authors, and they refreshingly give the Russians' Venera probes the pioneering primacy they deserve but don't often receive in American space books. This one is of British provenance, and its association with a TV series to be broadcast on A&E in fall 1999 should enhance its intrinsic popularity. Gilbert Taylor
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Beginning with a discussion of planet hunters at the Lowell Observatory in the early part of this century (searching for Planet X, which turned out to be Pluto), the chapter introduces 'the family', all the planets of our solar system, the asteroids, comets, other local phenomena, and has a brief discussion of origin and formation issues (nebulae, supernovae, planetary evolution).
As our nearest neighbour in space, the Moon has pride of place in mythology, space exploration, and in this presentation of extra-terrestrial worlds. It is amazing--the Earth is the only inner, rocky planet to have a substantial moon; this chapter discusses the space race and politics as well as science in earnest terms. The discussion of the astronauts a la The Right Stuff is always an interesting read. What is the future of the moon and humankind? Some speculation is here, with renewed interest, as the possibility of ice at the poles gives new life to lunar settlement ideas.
Looking at the worlds with hard surfaces (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars), the chapter on Terra Firma shows the diversity of worlds that occupy the space so close to us. Each has been explored numerous times by probes; Venus has for the first time in human history revealed more than a glorious morning/evening star light, as probes and sensors have finally been able to break through the cloud cover. Mars, of course, has always held a fascination for us, particularly after the 'discovery' of 'canals' on the surface; renewed interest in Mars has been propelling NASA efforts. Included in this chapter is a brief description of some of the moons of the outer planets (Europa, Triton) which would, if not tied to a gaseous giant planet, qualify as planets on their own.
Within the past few years, humankind has finally reached all of the major planets, all of the planets known to antiquity, and all but Pluto. Even with the most powerful of telescopes, these planets never appeared as much more than blobs, save for Saturn, with her enigmatic rings (which have turned out to be far more intricate than ever before imagined or believed possible). The probes to the outer worlds showed that all have rings of some sort; all have more moons than previously known (and than are probably still known). There are worlds to explore still in our own back yard, even as we search for planets around other stars.
Beginning, obviously, with our own sun, as the guiding physical force behind almost all in the solar system, the sun has variously been regarded as a god and a demon. Yet, for all its power and prominence, the idea that it, and not the Earth, was the centre of the universe was able to cause a stir (largely theological and philosophical) that would dominate learned and popular discourse for some time. Ironically, while the Church worked to silence Galileo and Copernicus who would suggest that the sun was centre stage, they applauded when Fr. Secchi, director of the Vatican Observatory 200 years later, announced the discovery that the sun was in fact a star, like other stars, and that not even the sun was at the centre of the universe. Solar flares, storms, composition and power are all discussed.
Atmospheres are thin veneers that coat some planets. These are barely worth mentioning in planetary composition terms, but, without it, no life would exist, and worlds would be very different places. The issue of atmosphere is important from the standpoint of life and space exploration. Atmosphere makes it interesting, or boring. Of course, the gaseous giants have more than their fair share of atmosphere, which again makes a difference in exploration terms. Storms are frequent on giant Jupiter, and can last for generations. Not only planets have atmosphere: Titan, a moon of Saturn reminiscent of Venus with unbroken cloud cover, is perhaps the most enigmatic and interesting world in the solar system today, with a predominantly nitrogen atmosphere (hey! like earth!) and organic chemistry (hey! like earth!)--what's going on here? In 2004 we may have a glimpse, as the ESA probe Huygens reaches the moon, and dives in, snapping pictures all the way down.
Are we alone? Is there life on Mars, or indeed, are we Martians? Is there life on the moons of the giants? How does life arise? Well, this book discusses, if not definitively answers, these questions. Discussing observations and probes, experiments and speculations, the idea of life in the solar system (in smaller forms, alas, no green men here) is fully developed. Looking to harsh areas on earth which nonetheless have life forms thriving, the idea that these same inhospitable earth-based climes are no different from the better areas of other worlds takes hold. Just what is life, anyway?
Beyond the Sun
And what else is out there? Other worlds in other systems? When Voyager turned its camera around to take a snapshot of the 'family', Mars and Pluto were too faint to show up, and Earth, as a pale blue dot lacking detail, was in the midst of a 6-metre long photograph. Out among the stars, there are stellar incubators (nebulae) which grow both stars and planets; the way stars die is also presented.
An extra plus for Yale Press for keeping British spelling and punctuation conventions throughout the text.
With the exception of the Moon and Sun, the authors do not simply cover each of our neighbors chapter by chapter as do most books on the Solar System. Rather, The Planets focuses on specific themes and discusses the planets in the context of those themes. One chapter is devoted to the inner planets and attempts to explain why the Earth turned out so radically different from its rocky neighbors. Another focuses on the different atmospheres of the planets and the effects they have on surface conditions. Naturally, the potential for life on the planets is a separate topic as well.
Accompanying the text are outstanding photographs taken by the robot spacecraft sent to the planets along with some artists' conceptions of localities that were inaccessible to the robots but perhaps one day will be. The visuals allow this book to double as a coffee table adornment! Also, integrated within the narrative are details of the various missions of exploration that taught us virtually everything we know today of the Solar System. One chapter documents the exciting "space race" between the US and Soviet Union in the 1960s that culminated in the manned lunar landings.
I sell most non-reference books after reading them unless they contain outstanding visuals or are otherwise useful. Can you guess what I'm doing with this one? My rating should give you a hint!
The organization was unusual for a book about the solar system, not ordered by planet, but moving fluidly from topic to topic. The chapter about atmosphere was particularly thought-provoking. The details about the missions and probes which gathered all the information presented was fascinating. The greatest thing about this book was that the science was presented in a "user-friendly" fashion which was completely unintimidating.
My son enjoyed the pictures and was intrigued by some of the abridged passages I read to him, but it's probably not for the under 10 set. I'm just glad my brother has such a high opinion of my son's intellectual capabilities or I might never have seen this book. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has ever looked up and wondered.