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review 2017-06-30 00:39
The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson
The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet - Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet covers Pluto’s discovery, the controversy over whether it should be called a planet, and the IAU’s (International Astronomical Union) decision to call it a dwarf planet. It is amusing that their definition for planet references the Sun, which leaves exoplanets in a bit of a lurch, technically. I was surprised to learn a few things in this book, or at least to be reminded of things that I may have forgotten, which is always a plus, and Tyson doesn’t inject needless personal stories into the text (he has republished a bunch of cute cartoons though).

 

Most of what I found amusing was just the back and forth arguments between the scientists as well as some of the things like the legislation introduced in California to condemn the IAU’s decision which included the following:

“WHEREAS, Downgrading Pluto's status will cause psychological harm to some Californians who question their place in the universe and worry about the instability of universal constants;”

 

Some of the people having fun with Pluto’s lack of inclusion among the planets were amusing too, like the other things that might happen if this becomes a trend in other areas, suggested by Eric Metaxas in an op-ed for the New York Times:

“GREAT LAKES TO BECOME FIRST FRESHWATER OCEAN

 

TEXAS DECLARES ITSELF A SUBCONTINENT

 

METER AND YARD SHAKE HANDS”

 

This book predated the New Horizons fly-by of Pluto, so we’re left without any awesome photos of heart-shaped geological features, but it’s still fun and informative.

 

I read this for booklikes-opoly square Tomorrowland 36 “Read a book with either an image of or from space, or where the author’s full name contains all of the letters in SPACE”. There’s a picture of a nebula as well as an illustration of Pluto (pre-iconic heart photo, remember?), so I’d say it fits the space nicely. Tyson is also wearing a space-themed tie on the cover. At 180 pages (including the appendices), this adds another $4 to my bank, leaving me with a total balance of $164.

 

Previous update:

106/180 pages

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text 2017-06-29 17:46
Reading progress update: I've read 106 out of 194 pages.
The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet - Neil deGrasse Tyson

Even years later I find the whole Pluto planetary dust-up so entertaining that I'm tempted to post quotes...

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review 2016-12-26 10:05
Cosmology for Kids
The how and why wonder book of stars (How and why wonder books) - Norman Hoss

Since I am now writing a review on a children's book suggests that I am back at my parents' house which means that I have access to my brother's collection that basically dates back to when we were kids. Actually, this book dates back even earlier, namely because Pluto is still a planet and the moon landing hadn't happened. In fact the book only goes as far as speculating what it would be like if we were to send humans onto the moon (and I don't believe Kennedy had made his famous 'let us send men to the moon' speech yet, which makes me wonder if George Bush Jnr was trying to emulate him when he made the speech about sending humans to Mars). Anyway, as the title suggests, this book is basically about everything beyond Earth's atmosphere, though it does make some mention of the atmosphere because the atmosphere does have an effect upon how we perceive the universe as a whole.

 

So, the book is structured in a way that we first explore the history of astronomy, and the book is good here as it doesn't rest on the belief that the Earth was flat until somebody decided to sail around the Earth to prove otherwise. In fact they point out that the Ancient Greeks had long known about that and simply pointed to how boats, when they disappear over the horizon, still have their sails visible. After this we then move onto the cosmological foundations, starting at the Earth and then moving out to the rest of the universe. Apparently there is also a star chart in this book but I believe we may have lost it long ago.

 

I could criticise this book on the fact that they don't say anything about Dark Matter, or raise the idea as to why, if the universe is infinite, the sky dark. Well, the two problems are that first of all this is a kid's book, and secondly some of those concepts may not have been fully developed yet (I'm not a huge expert on the subject of Dark Matter so I can't go into specific details, especially off the top of my head). Mind you, when I make the suggestion that the universe is infinite that is a bit of a misnomer because there is a theoretical edge, that being the 'Cosmic Background Radiation', though the thing is that they spot at which we have found it is not the spot at which it is currently located because when we look out into the cosmos we are basically looking at it as it appeared to be years, centuries, millenia, or even longer ago – what we are seeing when we hit the cosmic background radiation is the point of time beyond which the universe did not exist, and while it may not have existed then, it certainly exists now.

 

One thing that they did pick up, though didn't go into details on, is the idea of the redshift, that is that galaxies, and in fact stars, are forever moving away from each other suggesting that the universe is expanding. Mind you, this idea sort of makes my head hurt, especially when they talk about galaxies colliding with each other since if galaxies are forever moving away, how can they collide with each other? Even then, at the distances and times that it takes for things to move across the galaxy, let alone the universe, and the incredibly short span of time that makes up our lives, I wouldn't be too concerned about the consequences of two galaxies colliding.

 

Talking about cosmic things colliding we do have comets, though the writers seem to go to incredible lengths to assure the readers that nothing bad is going to happen. Well, according to Lucifer's Hammer if the Earth were to pass through the coma of a comet then some rather bad things would happen to us, namely that civilisation would probably come to an end. Mind you, they talked about the Earth passing through the comet's tail as opposed to the coma, which probably wouldn't do anything as much, with the exception of some impressive light displays in the upper atmosphere. However, with the concept that ancient peoples freaked out when a comet appeared in the sky it makes me wonder if some time, in the distant past, there was such an event, the memory of which has been passed down through generations.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1850326623
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review 2016-05-21 01:46
Breaking the Chains of Gravity by Amy Shira Teitel
Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight before NASA - Amy Shira Teitel

This was a somewhat interesting overview of the precursors to NASA and the story of early rocketry.  It suffered from some strange asides, however, e.g. the first Eisenhower digression – nothing to do with rockets or missiles. It is just an overview though, since each chapter basically warranted an entire book on its own.

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text 2016-05-18 20:18
Reading progress update: I've read 178 out of 304 pages.
Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight before NASA - Amy Shira Teitel

This is the first I've heard of mouse units, but I like 'em.

 

(A "mouse unit" is the amount of heat produced by one mouse.  It's relevant in space capsule design where you try not to do horrible things to animals and, eventually, humans.)

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