Book Review: Protostars and Planets V

Fabulous theories predict a dynamic, temporal universe. Assuming a special beginning and a robust continuance, we can imagine a transformation to the state we see today. But, we’ve every reason to believe that changes continue apace. We know stars disappear in cosmically vibrant explosions. We expect stars equally arise from dust fields. This is where the book Protostars and Planets V fits in. Within its covers, the editors Bo Reipurth, David Jewitt and Klaus Keil provide a rich and rewarding collection of papers about dust, star births and other exciting dynamics.

As noted in the book’s preface, a conference about early solar system formation seemed premature in the 1970s as no planets outside our solar system were known. Nevertheless, a conference and resulting publication showed the interest in this field. Since then, regular conferences with this theme have been held. The fifth in 2005 gave rise to this book. What makes this field more and more exciting is the continual discovery of planets orbiting other stars and their kin. Hence data can corroborate or stymie conjectures and true scientific progress takes place. The collection of papers in this text shows the strength and breadth that continues to make this field exciting and advancing.

Given the physical size of this book, partly due to its nearly thousand page count, there’s no surprise that lots lies within. Suffice to say that, as with most scientific fields, there’s broad amounts of data, analysis and modeling. The real data is somewhat sparse still yet, every new discovery or detection gets readily absorbed. The papers often have pointed reviews of data and then provide conjectures about the temporal processes and dynamics that gave rise to the observations. And, it seems all were completed by very talented and learned authors; 249 in total. These authors provide a rich and varied view and perspective, many of which will undoubtedly lead to surprises and advances.

With such a bright pool of writers and noting that this book results from a conference, the reader must be prepared to wade through without assistance. Equations are the norm rather than the exception. Given the dynamic nature of the subject, base physics involving density, temperature, pressure and photons are thrown about with the freedom that comes from every day usage. Yet, there’s no appearance of showmanship. Rather, the reports in this book demonstrate an eagerness and sincerity in the belief that the offerings are making a significant contribution to science.

Nevertheless, this is the proceedings from the fifth conference and within are allusions to a sixth. Thus, the reader needs to realize that the content represents ongoing work rather than a penultimate conclusion. Presumably we will continue to build and utilize better observatories and more capable computers. Hence, this book is an excellent snapshot of activity in 2005. But, there were referrals to new observations not yet fully analyzed but likely to skew the statistics. In consequence, the book’s contents would be great for a reader who wants to catch-up on this particular topic as there is no conclusion. Further, with authors’ names and indications of funding sources, a reader has got a ready way to follow-up. And, they could get help directing their own work, contemplate choices about how they could aid in the research or simply keep up to date.

Given the narrowness of the topic and the complexity of the presentation, the general reader or hobbyist will have a challenge cruising through the pages. But, there’s lots to discover for those so desiring. There’s dust columns that might indicate the size of dust fields, metrics that indicate if a planet is in the habitable zone and models that show the likelihood of accretion or disintegration. Just be prepared to have to wade through thick details full of charts, acronyms and specialist lingo. Much can be discerned, but the average reader will have to work at it; it’s not offered up on a plate.

The continual fly-by of comets shows everyone on Earth that our universe is rich in dynamics. Those with access to observatories and their resulting images know that the dynamism extends throughout space. The editors Bo Reipurth, David Jewitt and Klaus Keil provide papers in their book entitled Protostars and Planets V that show how such dynamism could lead to new stars out of a field of dust. Hence that wonderful expression, “We’re all made from star dust” is all the more apt!

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