The Lives of the Planets

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

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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 Jupiters 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 more

Product details

  • Hardback | 304 pages
  • 157.48 x 236.22 x 27.94mm | 589.67g
  • The Perseus Books Group
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0465014038
  • 9780465014033
  • 398,741

Review Text

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. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Richard Corfield

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 more