The New Solar System

J. Kelly Beatty, Carolyn Collins Petersen + Andrew Chaikin (editors)

Cambridge University Press 1999
A book review by Danny Yee © 1999
Our understanding of the solar system has advanced a long way since I last delved into the subject more than a decade ago. The New Solar System is a comprehensive overview of current knowledge, aimed at the educated non-specialist (this fourth edition is expanded and rewritten; the editors confidently predict a fifth will soon be needed). It contains twenty eight chapters by experts, but is a genuine book rather than an ad hoc collection, carefully edited to avoid redundancy and maintain consistency. At least acquaintance with basic general physics and chemistry is assumed, but mathematical and physical detail is avoided: notably, there is hardly an equation to be seen, with diagrams and figures used instead. Along with photographs, computer generated images, and artwork, these are superbly integrated into the text, never threatening, despite their splendour, to reduce The New Solar System to a picture book.

The New Solar System begins with a history of the exploration of the solar system, outlining the current extent of our knowledge and the prospects for future exploration, and a chapter on its origin. It closes with chapters on the possibilities for life elsewhere in the solar system and on the search for other planetary systems and what they teach us about our own. In between, the components of the solar system are systematically covered. There are the obvious chapters on the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, the Moon, and Mars, along with four comparative chapters on the atmospheres and interiors of the terrestrial and giant planets. There are three chapters on Jupiter's Galilean satellites, one on Titan, and one on Trito, Pluto, and Charon. Other chapters cover mid-size icy satellites, "small worlds" generally, comets, meteorites, asteroids, and cometary reservoirs. And there are chapters on magnetospheres and interplanetary space, on collisions, and on planetary rings.

The contributors don't just describe these bodies, however. They document their histories and the processes that have created, moulded, and placed them, on all time scales from solar system-wide orbital dynamics and geological processes to chemical processes and collisions. And along the way they explain the basic science behind it all. The result is a volume that brings to life both the unique features of particular bodies and the fundamentals of planetary science.

November 1999

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%T The New Solar System
%E Beatty, J. Kelly
%E Petersen, Carolyn Collins
%E Chaikin, Andrew
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 1999
%O paperback, 4th edition, quarto, colour photographs, index
%G ISBN 0521645875
%P viii,421pp