By Jamie Folsom
“Death From the Skies! These are the Ways the World Will End”
By Philip Plait, PhD
Viking Press, 2008
If the title and cover of this book seem like a cheesy Cold War era, space monster movie, that’s because it kind of is – quirky, funny, strange and entertaining. It’s also deadly serious stuff. “Death From the Skies” is hard science meant to address hard questions and fears people have. How long until our Sun dies? What if a huge asteroid or comet hits the Earth? What are the chances that a man-made black hole will consume our galaxy? Are there alien life forms that could wipe us out?
Phil Plait devoted his life to studying astronomy and helping the non-expert sort through science’s most complex issues and pervasive misperceptions. His first book, “Bad Astronomy” (also the name of his very popular blog site) takes a look at some of the most commonly misunderstood ideas we have about how planetary systems work.
In Death From the Skies, he delves deeper and explains the many ways in which life on Earth can be threatened – gamma ray bursts, supernovae, solar flares, black holes, alien microbes, meteorites, asteroids, and other known phenomena. Step-by-step he takes us through the concepts and research with a sense of adventure. There is a chart that compares the probable damage, odds of occurrence and preventability of several astronomical events.
This book is for the curious and the brave. I highly recommend it for those who love astronomy but hate to do the math, and those who want to know more than what the mainstream media have to offer on the subject.
“Sure the Universe is scary. But it’s also beautiful. A supernova can kill us, but the expanding wave of gas creates one of the most intricate and delicate objects we can see.”