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Disturbing the Solar System: Impacts, Close Encounters, and Coming Attractions [Paperback]

Alan E. Rubin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 15 2004

The solar system has always been a messy place in which gravity wreaks havoc. Moons form, asteroids and comets crash into planets, ice ages commence, and dinosaurs disappear. By describing the dramatic consequences of such disturbances, this authoritative and entertaining book reveals the fundamental interconnectedness of the solar system--and what it means for life on Earth.

After relating a brief history of the solar system, Alan Rubin describes how astronomers determined our location in the Milky Way. He provides succinct and up-to-date accounts of the energetic interactions among planetary bodies, the generation of the Earth's magnetic field, the effects of other solar-system objects on our climate, the moon's genesis, the heating of asteroids, and the origin of the mysterious tektites. Along the way, Rubin introduces us to the individual scientists--including the famous, the now obscure, and the newest generation of researchers--who have enhanced our understanding of the galactic neighborhood. He shows how scientific discoveries are made; he discusses the uncertainty that presides over the boundaries of knowledge as well as the occasional reluctance of scientists to change their minds even when confronted by compelling evidence. This fresh historical perspective reveals science as it is: an imperfect but self-correcting enterprise.

Journeying to the frontiers of knowledge, Rubin concludes with the exciting realm of astrobiology. He chronicles the history of the search for life on Mars and describes cutting-edge lines of astrobiological inquiry, including panspermia (the possible transfer of life from planet to planet), the likelihood of technologically advanced alien civilizations in our galaxy, and our probable responses to alien contact.

Authoritative and up-to-date but also entertaining and fluidly written, Disturbing the Solar System will appeal to any reader who has ever picked up a rock or gazed at the moon with a sense of wonder.


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Review

"Splendid. . . . Most writers make the pursuit of science seem purely mechanistic, devoid of characters or human foibles. Rubin is a welcome contrast."--Duncan Steel, New Scientist

"The book is scientifically accurate, and the writing is quietly competent. . . . Nearly half of [Rubin's] chapters represent his research interests in meteorites, asteroids and impact cratering, which are important but not yet over-told tales. . . . The book ends with the now de rigueur chapters on astrobiology, including a fascinating look at how humans might react if aliens were detected."--Charles A. Wood, Nature

"From a concise but complete description of the origin of the solar system to current thinking about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and much in between, this is an excellent read about our local astronomical neighborhood."--Choice

"This is a terrific book. . . . What really sets [Rubin's] book apart is the perspective of an active researcher. Rubin well understands that science is not an answer, but a journey. . . . This book not only provides a lesson on the inner workings of science, but also a broad overview of the importance of meteoritics and planetary science."--Timothy J. McCoy, Eos

From the Inside Flap

"This book--which reflects Dr. Rubin's experience in writing and lecturing for public audiences--stands out for its focus, innovation, and appeal. Dr. Rubin synthesizes a great deal of modern research in geophysics and planetary science. His selection and treatment of subjects is fresh. Even when he targets more familiar material, he approaches it with an unconventional perspective."--E. C. Krupp, Director, Griffith Observatory

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
THE PREHISTORY of the solar system is an astronomical saga of star birth and death, of matter collapsing into gravitationally bound clouds of gas and dust and elements being spewed into interstellar space. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover
This is a marvelous and wide-ranging book. It is written at a level that is accessible to high school students or precocious elementary/middle school students. However, it also satisfies the needs of a senior scientist (namely me) who wants to review current knowledge in this area. The book covers the history of the Solar System, including the formation of the Earth and the origin of the Moon. Current knowledge of asteroids and meteorites, the latter one of the author's specialties, is summarized accurately without boring the reader to tears. The story of giant impacts and mass extinctions, as in the demise of the dinosaurs, is well told. The author carefully explains the evidence that certain meteorites found on Earth were blasted off the Moon and that other meteorites are from Mars. The discussion of the controversy over possible life forms in Martian meteorites is up to the minute. The book concludes with a summary of current thinking about alien life forms and the possibility of life elsewherein the Universe. In the preface, the author states his intention to show that science is an imperfect enterprise. He succeeds admirably, presenting a balanced view of current controversies.
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Format:Hardcover
Dr. Alan Rubin's first book covers an extremely diverse (but interrelated) range of topics, including solar system evolution, orbital resonances, mass extinctions, asteroids, meteorites, tektites, craters, volcanism, plate tectonics, magnetic pole reversals, planetary rings, moons, comets, the evolution of life, and even the Drake Equation and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. No matter how broad your background might be in astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology, you are still likely to find a few topics or theories in this book that you've never been exposed to before.
For me, I'd never made the connection that domesticatable animals might be a requirement for a technologically advanced civilization. And while I'd read a number of books (both fiction and non-fiction) suggesting that life might not have evolved if it weren't for our planet's large moon, I had not previously read that the Moon stabilizes the tilt of the earth's axis. I knew about the Moon's role in nutation of the earth's axis, but was not aware that French astronomers had recently performed a computer simulation of what would happen to the earth's axis over time if the Moon were absent. (Gravitational interaction between the planets and earth's equatorial bulge would cause the obliquity of the ecliptic to vary chaotically over relatively small time periods -- millions of years. Such unstable seasons would lead to extreme global climatic fluctuations, making it much more difficult for life to establish itself.)
As you might expect, there are many dozens of photographs, diagrams, graphs and illustrations scattered throughout.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best Science Book In A Long Time July 11 2002
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoyed reading this book and I compliment and commend the writing style of Alan Rubin in "Disturbing The Solar System".
It is rare to find books on science written in such readable and understandable prose. It was quite a pleasure to read this book!
It is also my opinion that most authors of science related publications could learn something (and probably sell more books!) by observing Mr. Rubin's writing style.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent First Book from Meteoriticist Dr. Rubin Aug. 8 2002
By Rob Matson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Dr. Alan Rubin's first book covers an extremely diverse (but interrelated) range of topics, including solar system evolution, orbital resonances, mass extinctions, asteroids, meteorites, tektites, craters, volcanism, plate tectonics, magnetic pole reversals, planetary rings, moons, comets, the evolution of life, and even the Drake Equation and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. No matter how broad your background might be in astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology, you are still likely to find a few topics or theories in this book that you've never been exposed to before.
For me, I'd never made the connection that domesticatable animals might be a requirement for a technologically advanced civilization. And while I'd read a number of books (both fiction and non-fiction) suggesting that life might not have evolved if it weren't for our planet's large moon, I had not previously read that the Moon stabilizes the tilt of the earth's axis. I knew about the Moon's role in nutation of the earth's axis, but was not aware that French astronomers had recently performed a computer simulation of what would happen to the earth's axis over time if the Moon were absent. (Gravitational interaction between the planets and earth's equatorial bulge would cause the obliquity of the ecliptic to vary chaotically over relatively small time periods -- millions of years. Such unstable seasons would lead to extreme global climatic fluctuations, making it much more difficult for life to establish itself.)
As you might expect, there are many dozens of photographs, diagrams, graphs and illustrations scattered throughout. Indeed, this is the first book I've ever seen that contained pictures of the plaque aboard the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, the pictogram sent out by the Arecibo dish back in 1974 toward M13, photographs of crater chains on Callisto and the Moon, and a table of all the magnetic pole reversals -- all in one place. It will make a nice reference book whenever I need to find something fast.
There is a fairly extensive 18-page glossary covering most of the technical terms in the book, and there are also 10 pages of chapter by chapter references for additional reading. Rubin obviously spent a lot of time putting all of this together.
Of course, in any technical book there are bound to be typos and errors, though I found very few. Page 94, for instance, has a confusing phrase "...gravitational resonance between the Moon and the debris disk..." I believe he meant ~earth~ and the debris disk. The most glaring mistake I found is that Figure 11.2 on pg. 164 is misidentified as being a partial eclipse of the earth when it is merely a crescent earth. There are a couple of minor errors in the glossary -- see if you can spot the problems with the definitions of arcsecond and parsec.
Overall, the book is well-written in plain English that you don't need a PhD is astrodynamics to understand. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to expand their appreciation of just how fortunate we are to be alive on this little blue ball.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful history of the Earth and the Solar System Aug. 23 2002
By Paul S. De Carli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a marvelous and wide-ranging book. It is written at a level that is accessible to high school students or precocious elementary/middle school students. However, it also satisfies the needs of a senior scientist (namely me) who wants to review current knowledge in this area. The book covers the history of the Solar System, including the formation of the Earth and the origin of the Moon. Current knowledge of asteroids and meteorites, the latter one of the author's specialties, is summarized accurately without boring the reader to tears. The story of giant impacts and mass extinctions, as in the demise of the dinosaurs, is well told. The author carefully explains the evidence that certain meteorites found on Earth were blasted off the Moon and that other meteorites are from Mars. The discussion of the controversy over possible life forms in Martian meteorites is up to the minute. The book concludes with a summary of current thinking about alien life forms and the possibility of life elsewherein the Universe. In the preface, the author states his intention to show that science is an imperfect enterprise. He succeeds admirably, presenting a balanced view of current controversies.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Science Book In A Long Time July 11 2002
By M. STRAHM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoyed reading this book and I compliment and commend the writing style of Alan Rubin in "Disturbing The Solar System".
It is rare to find books on science written in such readable and understandable prose. It was quite a pleasure to read this book!
It is also my opinion that most authors of science related publications could learn something (and probably sell more books!) by observing Mr. Rubin's writing style.
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic science, very well written Feb. 26 2014
By R. Geller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
this book covers a wide range of fascinating topics. i have read a lot of astronomy books, and this one gets my highest ratings. on the topics i was more familiar with, i still found myself learning new aspects, and really enjoying the overall presentation. but there is also a lot of material in this book that is quite new for readers of astronomy, that other books just haven't covered. these are a real treat. this book really helps you understand what is involved in the transfer of microbes, via asteroid impacts, from one celestial body to another. one of the most exciting aspects of this is the transfer of earth's microbes to other bodies, and this is not a topic i have found covered in other popular astronomy books, even though the research journals have more recently reported very interesting results on conditions and chances for this to happen. looking back at the Table of Contents, i'm reminded of too many good parts of this book to discuss them all.
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