Friday, December 19, 2014

Four "coffee table" books that will give you a Christmas journey to other planets

At a visit to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington last Saturday, I picked up four coffee table books to try to get as much picture material as possible on other planets that could contain life or that are somewhat interesting, both in the Solar System, and extrasolar.
The best of these was DH’s Smithsonian “The Planets: The Definitive Visual Guide to our Solar System” , edited by Ben Morgan, 2014, 256 pages. 
The Mission to Mars chapter has only four color pages.

There are great diagrams of the inner structures of Jupiter and Saturn (which have metallic hydrogen), as well as Uranus and Neptune, which the book says may not be as gaseous as we had thought, and could have both “jello” and diamond layers. 

For Jupiter’s moons, there is a better picture of Ganymede than Europa. For Titan (Saturn) there are some small NASA Cassini photos and mock-ups, and a spectacular 2-page artist’s impression of a lake shore on the surface, with Saturn in the sky and an orange twilight atmosphere. Enceladus also has a spectacular panorama, as do Miranda (Uranus) and Triton (Neptune). Note the typo on p. 211, where the text reads "Titan" when "Triton" was intended.  This is an easy mistake to make when writing (your brain makes a substitution) and hard to catch in copy-editing.  I know this as a writer myself.  

National Geographic offers “Mars: Inside the Curiosity Mission” by Marc Kaufman, with a foreword by Elon Musk, 392 pages.  This book gives the viewer the best possible chance to take a vacation on Mars from an armchair on Christmas Day, after dinner.

National Geographic also offers a “Kids’ Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of the Solar System and Beyond” (2014), by David A. Aguilar, 192 pages . Europa, Titan and Triton get good surface pictures.  There are several exoplanets shown, including one near a brown dwarf, and one in a star in a globular cluster, but nothing that would come close to supporting life.  It means a hot rocky planet recently discovered in the Alpha Centauri system.

Kingfisher publishes “Universe: Journey into Deep Space” by Dr. Mie Goldsmith, illustrated b Dr. Mark A. Garlick. There are spectacular images of Titan, and Triton, and some more encouraging extra-solar planets, including one with a coast looking Biblical, a waterworld with life, and a couple of hot melting worlds (48 pages).  

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