You’ve gotta love an astronomer who can reduce the history of the universe to 10 words, who tells us what he would weigh at the surface of the Sun and then feels obligated to add a footnote saying he would weigh more if his wife had just baked cookies.
Phil Plait has done it again. He has filled our plate (pun intended) with education and entertainment in the same inimitable style he perfected in his first book Bad Astronomy.
If Elizabeth Barrett Browning had written Death from the Skies! she might have had the Universe say, “How can I kill thee? Let me count the ways.” Forget about the puny asteroids that menace Earth in the movies. The universe is far more inventive: it’s a regular Hannibal Lecter for nefarious plots. Black holes, gamma ray bursts, things you’ve heard of and things you never even imagined.
Plait explains all these threats from the skies and makes us worry. Then he tells us how unlikely most of them are so we can stop worrying. He even investigates some really neat ideas about how we might protect ourselves: such as moving the Earth to a new orbit or terraforming other planets.
I learned a lot about astronomy and cosmology, mostly how really BIG everything is. I mean BIG BIG. My mind has been boggled beyond any hope of recovery and I am permanently whelmed over.
The best thing about Phil Plait is he grew up without losing the best characteristics of a junior high school boy: a fresh sense of wonder, a curiosity about what-if sci-fi scenarios, a propensity for smart-ass jokes and wordplay. And the same enthusiasm for explosions that motivates the Mythbusters.
As the blurb on the back cover says, “the universe is an amazing enough place without having to make up crap about it.” This book is way more exciting than any feeble imaginings about the paranormal – and it’s all true!
This article was originally published in Swift, the online newsletter of the James Randi Educational Foundation.