The Secret Lives of Planets: Order, Chaos, and Uniqueness in the Solar System

Paul Murdin. Pegasus, $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64313-336-2
Astronomer Murdin (Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World) takes the reader on an awe-inspiring tour of the solar system’s most noteworthy celestial bodies, delving into their quirks, secrets, and possible futures. (One such prediction: one day life may be discovered on Mars that has originated from fragments of Earth thrown up into space by meteorite hits.) To smooth out the ride for nonscientists, Murdin makes inventive use of earthbound analogy, as when he remarks on Jupiter’s “distinct belly, like a dissolute monarch: the planet visibly bulges at the equator, and is flattened at the poles,” or describes two of Saturn’s ring moons as “shaped somewhat like ravioli, with a central, white, smooth, spherical body circumscribed by a raised equatorial ridge, corresponding to the [pasta’s] pinched edge.” Also pleasing is the way he interweaves topics including history, mythology, and linguistics, into astronomy. He discusses how the planets’ names preserve the ancient world’s beliefs about their namesake gods— “Mercury moves quickly; Venus is the beautiful goddess of love; Mars is warlike red in colour”—and how the planets’ astrological significance have come to be reflected in words such as martial, mercurial, and venereal, which are the “fossil relics of astrology.” Murdin’s fondness for his subject is evident throughout this elegant, imaginative survey and should be contagious to all who encounter it. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 05/18/2020
Release date: 10/06/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-1-64313-848-0
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