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Book Reviews


The Crowded Universe - The Search for Living Planets
Author: Alan Boss

Publisher: Basic Books

ISBN: 978-0465009367

Price: £15.99 (Hb), 256pp


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This book surveys the whole field of exoplanet research from an American perspective. Okay, so the author is an American, but contrary to the ethos of cooperation one expects in science the trans-Atlantic exoplanet hunters are portrayed in fierce competition with one another. With perceived increasing costs associated in some areas of space exploration, would it not make sense for international, cross-disciplinary teams to pool their areas of expertise, rather than duplicate others’ efforts? Alan Boss does make the point, when discussing instruments on orbiting space telescopes like CoRoT, that due to mission design and cost considerations a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot be adopted. Equipment capabilities will be different, not just as a result of budgetary constraints but also as their primary mission goals will differ.

Rhetorical questions aside, the book is a very readable account, often in a diary format, of the recent (last 15 years or so) history of exoplanet research and discovery. There’s a selection of colour plates in the middle, along with useful line diagrams elaborating techniques discussed in the text, assisting those who struggle with some of the concepts and technical descriptions. The author also employs some nice light touches of humour, helping ease up reading that can be technically complex stuff for those without an astrophysics PhD! In the difficult current economic climate, reading about financial issues faced by researchers helps explain how the concepts and designs of exoplanet-seeking equipment cycle back and forth, often for years, dictated by changing NASA heads and science budgets.

Overall I found The Crowded Universe was a good ‘snapshot’ publication for someone wanting to familiarise themselves quickly on the state of exoplanet research. No doubt it will date quickly though: over 300 planetary systems and counting!

Malcolm Smith

2009 Yearbook
This 132-page special edition features the ultimate observing guide for 2009, a review of all the biggest news stories of 2008, in depth articles covering all aspects of astronomy and space missions for 2009, previews of International Year of Astronomy events and much, much more.
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Infinity Rising
This special publication features the photography of British astro-imager Nik Szymanek and covers a range of photographic methods from basic to advanced. Beautiful pictures of the night sky can be obtained with a simple camera and tripod before tackling more difficult projects, such as guided astrophotography through the telescope and CCD imaging.
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Exploring Mars
Astronomy Now is pleased to announce the publication of Exploring Mars. The very best images of Mars taken by orbiting spacecraft and NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers fill up the 98 glossy pages of this special edition!
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Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
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