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Space News for December 20, 2001

A note from Fraser... Book Review: Distant Wanderers

Sorry about the break yesterday, but I needed to go see the Lord of the Rings. I trust you understand how important that is (FYI, it's possibly my favorite movie ever). :-)

Distant Wanderers

Distant Wanderers: The Search for planets Beyond the Solar System by Bruce Dorminey

Probably the most exciting aspect of modern astronomy is the recent discovery of planets orbiting other star systems. The techniques for finding the are only a few years old, but already Astronomers have uncovered 74 (although, it'll be more when you read this).

Distant Wanderers by Bruce Dorminey follows the short history of successful planet hunting, starting with the first bizarre discovery of planets around a distant pulsar and moving on to the more dependable Doppler spectroscopy method. As there isn't a long history, the book quickly catches up to the present, profiling the methods used by today's seekers. The bulk of the book, though, looks to the future of planet hunting; from new techniques to space-based observatories currently in development.

Although the technical terminology flies fast and furious, Dorminey takes the time to explain each term when it appears (like Doppler spectroscopy), simply and clearly in a sidebar, to make sure you grasp the concept before going any further.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is how Dorminey presents his own journey to uncover the information and meet the researchers. It's mostly a science book, but it also feels a little like a travelogue, and it's that aspect that prevents it from being dry; these are real people, making some of the most exciting discoveries in modern science - it's hard not to get caught up in the adventure.

A couple of complaints: the text is pretty small, even with good vision it isn't easy on the eyes; the photography is all black and white, which is a shame considered the beauty of the pictures selected (I know what many of them look like in colour). Finally, the science in this book is totally cutting edge, so I suspect it might feel a little dated in a few years - but that's progress!

Ghost Head Nebula
Spooky Ghost Head Nebula

The latest photo released from the Hubble Space Telescope is of star forming region NGC 2080, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring Galaxy to the Milky Way. Also known as the Ghost Head Nebula, because of the central white patch with twin glowing "eyes". The green areas of the photograph are caused by glowing oxygen, while the red areas are regions of heated Hydrogen gas.

Sweet meteorite Contains Sugar

A NASA scientist has discovered evidence of sugar and several related organic compounds in two meteorites. This discovery adds weight to the theory that life on Earth might have been seeded by material from outer space, as sugar has been involved in the basic biological functioning of all known life forms. This research was published in the journal Nature.

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