Sunday, May 25, 2008

Don't Know Much About the Universe
by Kenneth C. Davis

Subtitled Everything You Need to Know About the Cosmos But Never Learned.
Published in 2001.
344 pages (including references/resources and index).

Kenneth Davis has a number of entertaining as well as educational books in his Don't Know Much About series. Although this one needs some updating - published in 2001, it omits some important recent developments in space exploration, including the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, the launch of New Horizons in January 2006, the demotion of Pluto later that year, and today's successful landing of Phoenix on Mars - it was still a useful and informative book for me.

I actually started reading Don't Know Much About the Universe months ago for Fall into Reading, but I got distracted with a number of other things and didn't finish the book until now. The timing is nearly perfect, however, as Astronomy Day was May 10, and I needed a book for the "Every Month is a Holiday" challenge.

Among the most interesting ideas or facts I learned from Don't Know Much About the Universe are the following:

  • The courageous story of Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600 for his visionary notion that we are not alone in the universe.

  • A reminder of the Greek myth of Icarus, whose father was Daedalus, the namesake of a starship on Stargate: Atlantis.

  • The existence of the Mercury 13, thirteen female astronauts-in-training who were denied the opportunity to be among the first in space in 1960 because of the sexist attitudes of NASA.

  • This quote from Carl Sagan:
    Our world is now overflowing with life. How did it come about? How, in the absence of life, were carbon-based organic molecules made? How did the first living things arise? ... And on the counltess other planets that may circle other suns, is there life also? Is extraterrestrial life, if it exists, based on the same organic molecules as life on Earth? Do the beings of other worlds look much like life on Earth? Or are they stunningly different - other adaptations to other environments? What else is possible? The nature of life on Earth and the search for life elsewhere are two sides of the same question - the search for who we are.

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