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Meteorite - Tim Gregory ****

There have been many books on astronomy, ranging from exploring individual aspects of the solar system, such as the Sun or Mars, through to studies of the most distant depths of the universe, but there has been relatively little on the only astronomical objects that we're able to touch (other than the Earth itself) - meteorites.

In Meteorite, Tim Gregory fills in many details of the nature of these rocks from outer space, from how they formed in the first place to the range of types and origins that are possible. Most come from the debris of the forming solar system left in the asteroid belt, but some were smashed off the Moon or Mars by an incoming impactor.

Although the main focus is the meteorites themselves (if there's any doubt, we are talking about the solid remains that fall to Earth when a meteor - a shooting star - in part survives the journey through the atmosphere), Gregory also fills us in on the contribution that meteorites have made to the Earth, whether it be bringing in minerals or causing significant events such as the extermination of the dinosaurs. We also get to meet some of the special cases - the relatively rare meteorites that have been seen falling to Earth and the surprising role that meteorites have played in helping us determine the age of the Earth and the solar system.

I have two regrets here. One is that there are no illustrations at all in the book. I would love to have seen colour plates of the dramatic sounding structures within the different types of meteorite. And the other regret is that, like it or not, once you get a meteorite down to Earth, we're dealing with a cousin of geology, and it's very difficult for geology not to become a touch dull. There are only so many types of meteorite and of crystalline structure and chemical and isotopic makeup that the ordinary reader can get through before feeling a little sleepy.

In Gregory's favour, however, his sheer enthusiasm for the subject carries the reader forward even when it feels like we are getting a bit bogged down in that geological mire of terminology and categorisation. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in astronomy but who (like me) probably hasn't given meteorites much attention in the past. They are remarkable things.


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Review by Brian Clegg

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