Book Reviews

Book Review: A History of the Solar System

The value of a good analyst is priceless. They can synthesize data from disparate sources and weave a reasonable story to bring sense out of historical events and to provide guidance to planning for the future. Adding a sense of scale to space analysis so as to make things relevant to people living on the Earth today adds even more to their value. This is what Claudio Vita-Finzi provides in his book “A History of the Solar System.” It’s a collection of analyses of our grand backyard from a variety of perspectives and it offers great value to the reader.

We know so much about our solar system. And at the same time we realize that we know so little. That’s the main story of this book. It notes the common lore: there are planets, asteroids, comets and dust. That’s today. Long, long ago, a great expanse of dust got localised and made the Milky Way, so at least is postulated in the book. The future should see our Sun expand, larger than the orbit of the nearest planets.

But this book also connects lots of current scientific research to these stories. This is where the spirit of the analyst comes into play. For instance, the inner planets have certain ratios of crust to mantle to core while the outer bodies could be awash in oceans that are slightly sealed with solid caps. Why? The book provides some ideas but we’re still just learning to ask the questions.

The book postulates, “Why does water have different Hydrogen/Deuterium ratios throughout the solar system”. Or “What do calcium-aluminium-rich inclusions tell us about the construction of our universe”.  And the book goes on to hypothesize on possible accretion processes for our solar system as based upon observations of other planetary systems. With explanations helped by current events, such as the “record of cosmogenic isotopes … that can be recovered from ice cores and tree rings” we see how the analysis extends to particulars of the heliosphere.

Be warned though, the book expects a deep level of knowledge from the reader, such as with its comparison of our Sun to the star ?01 Uma or the magnetic lineations offsets across Valles Marineris indicating crustal plate interactions. And where might all this knowledge lead the reader? Perhaps the author’s frequent allusions to abiotic and living processes, together with methods to determine the presence of life gives a clue. That is, the reader might realize just how possible yet how difficult would be to detect life elsewhere in our solar system and indeed elsewhere in the universe.

As far as writing styles, this book could be considered tight. In less than a hundred pages it covers a huge amount of the key indicators used to define our solar system. The text is heavily referenced with 20-30 for each of the 8 chapters. A sprinkling of pictures and illustrations amplify its explanations. But, as the author says, this is not a textbook of “one era after another”. Rather the author tries to link how today derives from a long ago cloud of dust which will likely lead to some very interesting times for tomorrow. And this may be indicative of what’s happening throughout the universe. As the reader will learn, humans are gaining the knowledge that can bring some order into the understanding of processes of the universe and we have only to appreciate the connections in order to heighten our understanding.

With a few billion years of formation behind it, our solar system certainly seems special. The obvious is that we know it harbours life. Us! Yet a complex web of processes and interactions bind all substances together and are the baseline to our future. Perhaps by looking at the past then we can better hypothesize what the future will hold. If you want to try this then Claudio Vita-Finzi’s book “A History of the Solar System” is a great place to get ideas and capture some of excitement of the vivacity of our life. Take if for a read and from it free up your imagination to wonder and assess where we stand in time and space.

The book is available through Springer. Learn more about the author, Claudio Vita-Finzi here.
Cheers,

Mark Mortimer

Mark gets amazed at science. Awed with technology. And bemused by society. For example, people have stepped on the Moon, traveled faster than sound in the Concorde, and taken showers in the A380. All these are examples of the strengths of people's intellect. Yet, all these capabilities haven fallen to the wayside while online poker continually garners greater favour. As a counterbalance, Mark presents book reviews in the hope of nurturing young minds with the belief that mankind is more than shear dumb luck.

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