Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Asimov on Astronomy

Asimov on Astronomy
© 1975 Isaac Asimov
271 pages

Although in the back of my mind I knew the existence of Charon was a relatively recent discovery, I did not realize how recent until I read this book and realized Asimov was oblivious as to its existence. As it turns out, Pluto's humble satellite -- or perhaps co-plutoid would more accurate -- was discovered three years after Asimov published this book of essays in 1975. In an essay on the hypothetical tenth planet, Asimov muses that "Charon" might be a good name for a moon. As mentioned, this is a book of essays written on various topics within astronomy and published in various magazines (and other essay collections) before appearing here. As I would expect from Asimov, he combines scientific explanations with humor and talks directly to the reader, sometimes making jokes. Few of the essays are directly explanatory: they tend to be the result of Asimov being curious about a topic and playing with it. Such is the case of my favorite essay in this selection, "The Planet with Two Suns", in which he writes on how Greek mythology and science might have looked if our Sun had a companion star. In other essays, he does stick with a standard explanation of the topic -- such is the case with "Time and Tides", where he writes on the way the moon and sun cause Earth's sides. Aside from a few minor things, the essays hold up well against the test of time. Enjoyable as ever.

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