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Lives of the Planets: A Natural History of the Solar System

Overview


Lives of the Planets describes a scientific field in the midst of a revolution. Planetary science has mainly been a descriptive science, but it is becoming increasingly experimental. The space probes that went up between the 1960s and 1990s were primarily generalists-they collected massive amounts of information so that scientists could learn what questions to pursue. But recent missions have become more focused: Scientists know better what information they want and how to collect it. Even now probes are on ...
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Lives of the Planets: A Natural History of the Solar System

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Overview


Lives of the Planets describes a scientific field in the midst of a revolution. Planetary science has mainly been a descriptive science, but it is becoming increasingly experimental. The space probes that went up between the 1960s and 1990s were primarily generalists-they collected massive amounts of information so that scientists could learn what questions to pursue. But recent missions have become more focused: Scientists know better what information they want and how to collect it. Even now probes are on their way to Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Pluto, with Europa-one of Jupiter’s moons-on the agenda. In a sweeping look into the manifold objects inhabiting the depths of space, Lives of the Planets delves into the mythology and the knowledge humanity has built over the ages. Placing our current understanding in historical context, Richard Corfield explores the seismic shifts in planetary astronomy and probes why we must change our perspective of our place in the universe. In our era of extraordinary discovery, this is the first comprehensive survey of this new understanding and the history of how we got here.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Corfield (The Silent Landscape) paints a companionable guide on this tour of the solar system. With a subject spanning 4.6 billion years, many billions of miles and eight (well, maybe nine) planets, a host of moons, asteroids galore, a plethora of comets and more, it is not surprising that many of the details are not filled in. Nonetheless, there is much to grab the average reader. Corfield focuses in turn on each major item in the solar system. Chapters begin by discussing the early ideas humans had about each object and then move to the advances we've made over the past 50 years. Finally, Corfield synthesizes available knowledge and explains what we currently know and why we know it. Throughout, he does a good job of articulating why he believes the billions of dollars spent on space exploration have been worthwhile. Discussing the joint NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens project to explore Saturn and Titan, one of its moons, Corfield says, "We went to Titan because it seemed the world most similar to the Earth when our world was new." With his strong writing and expansive subject, it is impossible not to be infected with Corfield's enthusiasm for planetary science. 28 color photos. (July 9)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
An overview of the solar system, with an emphasis on what we've learned from robotic probes and landers. Corfield (Astronomy/Open Univ.; The Silent Landscape, 2004, etc.) combines several different approaches here: a guide to the planets, a history of astronomy and a look inside the space programs of various countries. This produces some interesting juxtapositions. In the chapter on the Sun, the focus is first on Stonehenge, now known to be a prehistoric astronomical computer; then it shifts to the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram used to classify stars by their luminosity and color; then to Galileo's work on sunspots; and then to the effect of sunspot cycles on terrestrial climate cycles. At each step, the author applies a variety of scientific insights into the current understanding of the star that dominates our daytime sky. Corfield is particularly good on the history of the space programs, giving full due to the achievements of the Soviets on Venus, which we now know to be a hellishly hot planet with a corrosive atmosphere rather than the near twin to Earth generations of astronomers thought it must be. Mars, perhaps the most fully explored of the planets, receives ample treatment. As the narrative approaches the outer planets, data becomes sparser and the chapters shorter. The moons of Jupiter get closer attention as possible abodes of life, and the author duly emphasizes the surprising diversity of planets and satellites, which have fewer family resemblances than one might expect from a group of objects that originated at much the same time from the same basic clump of raw material. Corfield stumbles occasionally when commenting on fields outside astronomy, particularly paleontology.Nonetheless, this is a well-crafted survey of a dauntingly broad body of material. Good reading for astronomy buffs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465028511
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/3/2012
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,410,363
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Richard Corfield received his doctorate from Cambridge University. He is currently a Visiting Senior Lecturer and Researcher in the Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research at the Open University, which oversaw both the Beagle 2 Mars mission and the Huygens mission to Titan.
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Table of Contents

Preface xi

1 Ages of Dark and Light: The Sun 1

2 The Piper at the Gates of Dawn: Mercury 27

3 The Greenhouse in the Sky: Venus 47

4 The Wizards of Earthsea: Earth and Moon 77

5 The Martian Chronicles: Mars 101

6 The Outward Urge: Asteroids 135

7 The Eye of the Universe: Jupiter 155

8 Ringing Infinity: Saturn 185

9 The Harmonies of the Ice Giants: Uranus and Neptune 211

10 Termination Shock: Pluto and the Kuiper Belt 227

Acknowledgments 251

Index 253

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