Review: Lonely Planet – The Universe, A Travel Guide

This guide to all the lonely planets in our solar system, as well as our sun and further flung celestial bodies, is a treat. Written in conjuction with NASA, it’s full of up-to-date information (at least, up-to-2018, which is when the info was compiled before the 2019 release).

While confident the science is all correct, I’m also delighted that the book is easy to read, the language accessible to those of us without PhDs in astrophysics. The combination of co-authors includes travel writers, space enthusiasts and Dr Mark A. Garlick (the one with said astronomy-related PhD experience). Several NASA scientists are also thanked, including its chief scientist, Dr James Green.

One of the fun things about this book is the humour. I get a little frisson of delight whenever I see the usual LP sidebar headings of ‘Getting There and Away’, ‘Top Tips’, ‘Five Facts’ and the Highlights, even for places like Neptune and Mars.

In keeping with current scientific thought, poor old Pluto isn’t a planet but still gets a write-up as Dwarf Planet.

Bill Nye’s lively introduction, which touches on global warming and the Earth’s (so far) unique role as the only planet supporting life is followed by other essays introducing the reader to current scientific thinking about our solar system and the universe at large, including naming conventions, some tips on how best to use the book, and the history of manned spaceflight.

This guide is ambitious beyond the solar system, mind you. The Sun and all its planets only take up the first 300 or so pages of the 608 in this book. It goes on to explore other non-planetary objects in the solar system, asteroids and the Kuiper belt, dwarf planets, comets, the Oort cloud, exoplanets, other stellar objects, and galaxies, including colliding galaxies and galaxy clusters.

Yes folks, this book has the universe as we thus far know it at your fingertips. And it’s all presented in easy to understand bites, with highlights, pull-out boxes, gorgeous images and clear explanations for the lay person, along with all the stats a numbers person could wish for.

The writers haven’t neglected pop culture either, with references to Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov, HG Wells, Star Wars, Jules Verne and even Jupiter Ascending. Even Freddy Mercury scores a mention!

If anyone in your life is fascinated by our world and the stars beyond it, you can do worse than give them The Universe! Hell, give yourself the far heavens as well. Dip in and out of the book for the armchair travel among the stars, and be reminded that our planet is small and special in the vast universe and needs better care than we have given it, if we’re all to survive.

Buy Lonely Planet: The Universe

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