Saturday, July 26, 2008

Planets, Stars and Galaxies by David A. Aguilar

"Planets, Stars and Galaxies: A Visual Encyclopedia of Our Universe" is a roller-coaster ride through our solar system and then through our galaxy, showing off its features and explaining some of its mysteries and what we know about it.

The book starts off with a ride through the solar system on a futuristic space ship, starting with Venus, then Mercury, the Sun, Mars, the Asteroid Belt and dwarf planet Ceres, the Gas Giant Planets, and dwarf planets Pluto, Charon and Eris, the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud before returning to Earth and the Moon. Each planet is covered in detail, from the number of its moons (though several, especially for Jupiter and Saturn, are merely given approximate numbers, given how many are still being discovered), and in the case of the Gas Giants, the more prominent of the the moons are also covered in the writeup.

Pictures, from space missions and the Hubble telescope, are given for each planet, although Pluto, Charon and Eris are too far from the sun to be photographed, so artist's depictions are used instead.

From there, we move on to the stars, with discussions of the Milky Way, the various galaxies that make up the local cluster, and the "wall" of clusters and galaxies that the universe is formed from. Topics covered include what stars are, the different types of stars, and how their fates differ depending on their size.

The book concludes with speculations on what sorts of alien life forms could exist on other planets, extrasolar planet information, and possible future dreams that we could achieve, such as terraforming Mars, Space Hotels, and future space craft we could build. There is also a time line of the universe, and of our solar system.

This book is a fascinating, if shallow, look at the Universe. There is just enough information about the various planets to whet the reader's appetite and make them want to look deeper. Most articles range from 2-6 pages, with plenty of pictures, all in color (or mostly). As well, the book is up to date scientifically, with Pluto and Charon being identified as a double planet system, and as dwarf planets, the same as Ceres.

Though this book is meant for kids, the depictions of the planets, stars and moons of outer space will thrill adults as well. Not so much the text, which is definitely more for children. Still, this is the kind of "coffee table book" which you will come back to look at again and again.

No comments: