Book 89: How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown

7963278Finished reading on November 25th, 2013 (my birthday! 🙂 )

Rating: 10/10

“How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming” by Mike Brown is a book about the discovery of some large icy objects in orbit around the Sun in the Kuiper belt. It tells the story of the discoveries of Sedna, Makemake, Haumea and Eris. You can find out how these objects were discovered and who were the scientists behind the discovery.

It is a rather personal account, as Mike Brown was the leading scientist working on trying to find other objects past the orbit of Pluto. Besides finding out his thoughts and feelings on those objects, there’s also quite an entertaining (for the reader, though it probably wasn’t too entertaining for the author) part about how Mike tried to use the scientific method for raising his newborn daughter. For example he tried to find out whether or not the baby sleeps longer when she’s been fed by her mother or when Mike just gives her the bottle. And the birth of Lilah (Mike’s daughter) coincides with the announcement of some of the objects so he has to deal with a lot of publicity. There’s also some drama involved with the discovery of one of the objects, but you can read more about that in the book.

Now one of the most important parts is the “killing Pluto” part. Do you have strong feelings for this dirty ice-ball? If you do, this book might not be for you, or maybe it might make one see reasons behind Pluto’s demotion… Mike Brown is “the killer of Pluto” because as there were new objects discovered near Pluto that were sometimes bigger than Pluto, then it became necessary to classify those objects. With asteroids it’s simple. But planets? Well the problem was that there was no definition for “planet”, only the concept of planet. And so when International Astronomical Union tries to get twelve planets into the Solar System, with Mike’s Eris being one of the planets, Mike starts an attack on the definition, showing why Pluto shouldn’t be a planet. And as you know, Pluto’s not a planet anymore, so if you want to know more about the back-story, of what happened and why it’s not a planet, read this book!

Book 88: The Unity of the Universe by D. W. Sciama

sciama

The Unity of the Universe by D. W. Sciama

Rating 8/10

Finished reading on November 23, 2013

The Unity of the Universe starts from finding out the scale of the Universe / from how to measure the circumference of the Earth, how to find out how far the Moon is and how to determine distances between the planets and the Sun. It then goes on with the measurement of the stellar parallax and how big the Milky Way galaxy is. What I found curious is also how the astronomers found out the shape of the Milky Way. Sure, there are lots of spiral galaxies around, but how do you actually determine a spiral shape when you’re in the galaxy?

This book was first published in 1959, so it makes for an interesting reading, as in 1959 the microwave background radiation was still 5 years in the future, so you can read both about the evolving universe theory and the steady state theory of the Universe. Plus there’s a little about the formation of the galaxies and the chemical elements, so it’s quite interesting. And naturally general theory of relativity! So there’s all the essentials in this rather short book with clear and simple illustrations and not too much mathematics is needed to understand everything.

Dennis William Sciama was a British physicist, who did his doctoral thesis under Paul Dirac (you can find a review of one of his biographies “The Strangest Man” here) and is considered one of the fathers of modern cosmology. And Stephen Hawking and Martin Rees were some of his doctoral students.

Book 87: The Martian by Andy Weir

cover35512-mediumThe Martian by Andy Weir

Finished reading on November 19th, 2013

Rating: 10/10

“The Martian” is about a poor astronaut called Mark Watney who gets accidentally left on Mars after the rest of the crew evacuates back to Earth.

So the story goes like this – it’s some time in the future, when there have been two Ares missions to Mars, both with a crew of six astronauts. The story starts with the evacuation of the third crew with the Ares 3 mission, as the wind speed is getting too dangerous for the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), which is the only way back to Earth. While hurrying towards MAV one of the astronauts gets hit with an antenna from a flying communications system and is lost in the dust storm. Although the crew searches for him for a while, it seems as if he’s lost and dead.

But fortunately he is not, and after gaining consciousness he realizes that he has been left behind. And now starts his survival story – the lonely man’s struggle to stay alive on a lifeless red planet.

He has a lot of challenges on the way – he has no method of communications with the Earth for starters, only about after he’s been alone for two months do the satellites reveal that he might possibly be alive.

It’s a really action packed book, and would be great reading for anyone interested in space exploration.

In the beginning I was a little disturbed by the astronaut’s strong language, but as you get to know more about his situation, you can forgive him.

It seems that the author has done a lot of research for this book which made it so excellent.

I liked it because it showed the situation from the perspectives of many people – Mark’s to start off, and then Mission Control’s and from the perspective of the rest of the Ares 3 crew as well. Also I found it interesting how the author had put together so many accidents (which of-course all might occur if you have to stay on Mars for one and a half Earth years all alone) and it still ended happily. Well of-course it would have been sad if he’d just missed one necessary component of something or just didn’t know what to do or didn’t have enough food to last so long…. but as most of the book is in a log- book format, then naturally it couldn’t very well exist if he hadn’t survived for that long.

I hope this book will be made into a movie. It’s got excitement, romance, comedy, adventure and space exploration, so you can’t get much better than that! (plus there are no aliens here, and the only food that the astronaut is able to grow is potatoes, so not too far-fetched).

Read it!

Book 86: The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

Finished reading on November 7th, 2013

Rating: 9/10

“The Girls of Atomic City” is a book about the lives of women in Oak Ridge, Tennessee during the Second World War. These women helped to enrich Uranium, or take care of the sick and injured or took care of some paperwork or worked in a chemistry lab, without really knowing what it was they were working on. They only knew what it was they were supposed to be doing.

That secrecy part is quite understandable, as the Gadget was supposed to end the war and bring their sons and brothers back home. And that kind of large-scale secret keeping seems to have been one of the main characteristics of the 20th century. Not just the Manhattan project in the United States, but also the first artificial satellite that was built in the Soviet Union some 20 years later… and probably a lot of others.

That seems the most curious thing that the secrets were kept.

But other than that the book is really interesting as the atmosphere created by the secrecy and the descriptions of scenery are quite extraordinary – the mud and women first arriving and wearing their best shoes for first day at work having to trot through it and possibly lose the in the mud…The “hutments” and other living quarters where people had to live… but at least the money was good.

One of the parts I liked best was when one of the women asked a random construction worker to make her a pan. Since there was scrap metal around that they wouldn’t use… And surprise – she did get her pans – three of them! And was able to make biscuits in secret although it was forbidden to cook in the “hutments”.

I think that this book is a rally good one to read to get a feeling for the era and atmosphere of the Manhattan project. There’s not much science (almost not at all), so it’s accessible and it’s not too gory either.

Book 85: The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

PIMG_7037The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

Finished reading on November 3rd, 2013

Rating: 6/10

The Complete Cosmicomics is a collection of short stories, which all have a slight basis on one scientific fact and then Calvino weaves a story around it.

There were quite a few really enjoyable ones, for example “The Light-Years” and “The Dinosaur” were two of my favourites.

“The Light-Years” is about how one night the narrator looks through his telescope and sees a sign hanging on a galaxy that says: ” I saw what you did.” Naturally, since the narrator has been present since the beginning of time and the galaxy he was observing is two million light years away then some-one observed him that long time ago. And now the narrator is trying to justify himself in a way, or just leave a better impression of himself, but now there are signs springing up in other galaxies as well and it seems to get quite embarrassing for the narrator, as he can’t really hide himself and fix the impression other beings have of him, because the light gets there so slowly…Anyway that story was fun.

“The Dinosaur” however is about the last poor dinosaur who has to come to grips with living in a world with “the New Ones” who are taking over the world and telling scary stories about what awful monsters dinosaurs were not even realizing that by chance there is one living among them. It is rather sad and imaginative and makes one feel bad about the extinction of the dinosaurs and about the fact that the silly “New Ones” think that rhinos are dinosaurs….

There were a lot of other stories, some of which were just a bit too difficult to get through and not fall asleep at the time, others were really good, so despite only 6 points out of then I’d recommend reading at least some of those stories!