Plait, an astronomer and author of the popular Web site badastronomy.com, presents "in loving detail" the many, many ways the human race could die, from temperature extremes and poisonous atmosphere to asteroid impacts and supernovae explosions. Such a state of destruction existed some 65 million years ago, when a giant meteoroid struck Earth, sending up so much flaming debris that "the whole planet caught fire" and the dinosaurs were wiped out. Solar flare activity could bring on another Ice Age. Worse yet would be a gamma ray burster, a collapsed star whose radiation would be comparable to detonating "a one-megaton nuclear bomb over every square mile of the planet." Plait discusses insatiable black holes, the death of the Sun and cannibal galaxies-including our own. Balancing his doomsday scenarios with enthusiastic and clear explanations of the science behind each, Plait offers a surprisingly educational and enjoyable astronomical horror show, including a table listing the extremely low odds of each event occurring. He gives readers a good scare, and then puts it in context. Illus. (Oct. 20)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Washington Post Book World
[Plait] describes each doomsday scenario with glee . . . .Yet for all that, his book is strangely comforting . . . .Comprehensible and engaging.
Plait is one of the world's favorite astronomers. He is an entertaining writer, jocular and jaunty, which produces a delightful clash with the ideas in this book, which, since it is a scientific look at the unpredictable but inevitable end of the Earth and of us and all our progeny, ought to be a real downer. It's not at all. The enthusiasm Plait has for his subject is not any morbid fascination with the upcoming bang or whimper, but with how much we know now about the universe around us, and he conveys this enthusiasm with pages full of wonder. This is a fun way to learn about cosmology. Readers will come away with admiration for all the learning and informed speculation encompassed here, but also, if you are like me, an increased sense of wonder and value.
Plait (Bad Astronomy) runs the popular blog BadAstronomy.comand is a former astronomy professor. Here, he describes the myriad ways that astronomical events could end life on Earth. These include comet and asteroid impacts, massive solar flares, supernova explosions, gamma-ray bursts, black holes, diseases of extraterrestrial origin, the eventual death of the sun, and the wobbly orbit of the sun around our galaxy that could expose us to cosmic rays. Plait does not sensationalize our planet's demise and admits that only the death of the sun-and eventually the universe-is certain. His keen ability to select the best analogies makes difficult cosmological concepts clear, and his witty prose makes for a good read. Plait even outlines a scheme to save Earth when the sun eventually becomes a red giant-by using gravity assists to move the planet farther out in the solar system. Untold eons from now, the universe will be empty and dark and even matter will decay, leaving nothing. Highly recommended for all popular science collections in public and academic libraries.
A surprisingly upbeat look at all the ways the universe can destroy us.
After a brief introduction, astronomer Plait (Bad Astronomy, 2002) gets down to business with asteroid strikes. The chapter begins with a fictionalized episode that leads to the arrival of the killer planetoid. The author then steps back to relate the science: what meteors are, how often they hit Earth, evidence that very large ones have done so (including the famous dinosaur-killer 65 million years ago) and the probability that it will happen again. He points out that unlike many other disasters, this one is potentially preventable if humans make it a priority to find and deflect possible impactors. Plait then moves on to the next killer: a hyperactive sun. Each chapter introduces a new, plausible and usually unstoppable cosmic disaster: nearby supernovae, cosmic ray bursts, black holes, hostile aliens�ending with (in order) the eventual deaths of the sun, the galaxy and the universe as a whole. He also calculates the probability of each occurrence. More interestingly, Plait uses each of the doomsday scenarios to teach about astronomy and physics. The supernovae chapter includes material on the history of science, stellar evolution, astrophysics and day-to-day astronomy. For example, some 100 tons of material from the Crab Nebula supernova, which was seen exploding nearly 1,000 years ago, will eventually impact Earth. That sounds like a lot, but 20 to 40 tons of meteoric material impacts our planet every day, so the effect of the Crab will be at most a blip. The text is full of similar mundane facts, related clearly and logically to the sensational scenarios, the author's purported subject. An epilogue givesthe odds on different types of cosmic doom. Readers will be glad to know that most of them are extremely unlikely�at least in their lifetimes.
Eminently readable basic science with an irresistible hook.