Sunday, August 28, 2011

Extreme Places in the Solar System

The universe is a mighty big place, but there is no shortage of amazement right here in our celestial neighborhood. From Venus's searing surface temperatures, hot enough to melt lead, to Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a storm that has been raging for hundreds of years, to the cryovolcanoes of the Saturnian moon Enceladus, the solar system boasts plenty of extreme locales.

That is the thrust of a new book, The 50 Most Extreme Places in Our Solar System (Harvard University Press), which serves as a kind of photo-illustrated guidebook for the planets—along with their accompanying moons and rings—that surround the sun. The book's authors, David Baker of Austin College and Todd Ratcliff of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, acknowledge that they use the term "places" loosely: Some of the 50 entries are specific events, such as the asteroid impact that killed off the dinosaurs on Earth, and some are long-term phenomena, such as plate tectonics.

"What are the lessons to be learned from this journey of the mind [through the universe]? That humans are emotionally fragile, perennially gullible, hopelessly ignorant masters of an insignificantly small speck in the cosmos. Have a nice day."

Death By Black Hole, Neil deGrasse Tyson

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