Skip to main content

Near-Earth Objects – Donald K. Yeomans ****

As I write this there has just been a meteor strike in Russia leaving hundreds injured, so it is very timely to be considering, as the subtitle puts it, how we can find ‘them before they find us.’
Donald Yeomans’ book introduces us to the origins of the solar system (including a relatively recent update on the traditional model with the ‘Nice model’) and explains why there is so much debris out there that has the potential of crashing to Earth from the tiny bits of dust and pebble sized rocks that burn up harmlessly as meteors to the impressively large and scary kilometre scale asteroids and comets.
While in no sense scare-mongering, Yeomans makes it clear just why we need to be on the look out for incoming material, explains what the risks are and explores the opportunities for intervening and preventing potential disaster. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as Yeomans also gives us chapter and verse on the potential to make use of relatively accessible near Earth objects, either to get hold of scarce materials, to act as a way station en route to a distant destination like Mars, or both (when, for instance a NEO way station could be mined for water on the way to Mars).
Unlike many books involving space exploration I didn’t get the feeling of fantasy, wishful thinking or sabre rattling. Yeomans just gives us good, reasoned arguments, presented in the main in a likeable, friendly fashion. The only major irritation is that Yeomans does occasionally flip into ‘astronomer cataloguing mode’, giving us long tedious lists, foe example when describing where the near Earth objects come from. Be prepared to skip a page or two – but the focus on readability soon returns.
Overall, if you are interested in astronomy, the solar system or the survival of the human race, this is a book that should spark your interest.
Hardback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lost in Math - Sabine Hossenfelder *****

One of my favourite illustrations from a science title was in Fred Hoyle's book on his quasi-steady state theory. It shows a large flock of geese all following each other, which he likened to the state of theoretical physics. In the very readable Lost in Math, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder exposes the way that in certain areas of physics, this is all too realistic a picture. (Hossenfelder gives Hoyle's cosmological theory short shrift, incidentally, though, to be fair, it wasn't given anywhere near as many opportunities to be patched up to match observations as the current version of big bang with inflation.)

Lost in Math is a very powerful analysis of what has gone wrong in the way that some aspects of physics are undertaken. Until the twentieth century, scientists made observations and experiments and theoreticians looked for theories which explained them, which could then be tested against further experiments and observations. Now, particularly in particle physics, it…

Gravity! - Pierre Binétruy ****

I had to really restrain myself from adopting the approach taken by The Register in referring to Yahoo! by putting an exclamation mark after every word in the text when faced with reviewing Gravity! One thing to be said about the punctuation, though, is it makes it easier to search for amongst a whole lot of books on gravity and gravitational waves (the subtitle is 'the quest for gravitational waves') since their discovery in 2015.

Despite the subtitle, Pierre Binétruy gives us far more - in fact, gravitational waves don't come into it until page 160, which makes it really more of a book about gravity with a bit on gravitational waves tacked on than a true exploration of the quest. 

However, those early pages aren't wasted - Binétruy gives us plenty of detail on all kinds of background, for example plunging in to tell us about element synthesis, something you wouldn't expect in a book on gravitational waves. I also really liked a little section on experiments you can…

Brain Based Enterprises - Peter Cook ****

A quick flag on this one: it's a management/business book, and the four star rating is with that in mind. Brain Based Enterprises does contain a surprising amount of science, considering this, which is why it's here, but don't expect it to be like a four star pure science book.

This is an eclectic attack on the status quo of our ideas about business. Peter Cook suggest that much of current business simply isn't oriented to the realities of a modern, technological world, and that we need to handle things very differently in a knowledge-based economy.

The book is divided into three sections. For me, the most interesting was the first 'brainy people' part, as my own business doesn't have teams and such - but for those who do there are also 'brainy teams' and 'brainy enterprises' sections. Cook stirs together a heady mix of science - from psychology to economics - music (a passion of his and a significant part of the way he works) and business the…