January 2017: Books

It's time for a list of interesting astronomy and space related books that have their premiere in January. Click on the cover for more info.
January 17, 2017
"Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars", Nathalia Holt

In the 1940s and 50s, when the newly minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, they didn't turn to male graduates. Rather, they recruited an elite group of young women who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible.

For the first time, Rise of the Rocket Girls tells the stories of these women--known as "human computers"--who broke the boundaries of both gender and science. Based on extensive research and interviews with all the living members of the team, Rise of the Rocket Girls offers a unique perspective on the role of women in science: both where we've been, and the far reaches of space to which we're heading.

January 24, 2017
"Amazing Stories of the Space Age: True Tales of Nazis in Orbit, Soldiers on the Moon, Orphaned Martian Robots, and Other Fascinating Accounts from the Annals of Spaceflight", Rod Pyle

Award-winning science writer and documentarian Rod Pyle presents an insider's perspective on the most unusual and bizarre space missions ever devised inside and outside of NASA. The incredible projects described here were not merely flights of fancy dreamed up by space enthusiasts, but actual missions planned by leading aeronautical engineers. Some were designed but not built; others were built but not flown; and a few were flown to failure but little reported:

A giant rocket that would use atomic bombs as propulsion (never mind the fallout), military bases on the moon that could target enemies on earth with nuclear weapons, a scheme to spray-paint the lenses of Soviet spy satellites in space, the rushed Soyuz 1 spacecraft that ended with the death of its pilot, the near-disaster of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the mysterious Russian space shuttle that flew only once and was then scrapped--these are just some of the unbelievable tales that Pyle has found in once top-secret documents as well as accounts that were simply lost for many decades.

These stories, complimented by many rarely-seen photos and illustrations, tell of a time when nothing was too off-the-wall to be taken seriously, and the race to the moon and the threat from the Soviet Union trumped all other considerations. Readers will be fascinated, amused, and sometimes chilled.

January 25, 2017.
"The Pillars of Creation: Giant Molecular Clouds, Star Formation, and Cosmic Recycling", Martin Beech

This book explores the mechanics of star formation, the process by which matter pulls together and creates new structures. Written for science enthusiasts, the author presents an accessible explanation of how stars are born from the interstellar medium and giant molecular clouds. Stars produce the chemicals that lead to life, and it is they that have enabled the conditions for planets to form and life to emerge.

Although the Big Bang provided the spark of initiation, the primordial universe that it sired was born hopelessly sterile. It is only through the continued recycling of the interstellar medium, star formation, and stellar evolution that the universe has been animated beyond a chaotic mess of elementary atomic particles, radiation, dark matter, dark energy, and expanding spacetime. Using the Milky Way and the Eagle Nebula in particular as case studies, Beech follows every step of this amazing process.

January 27, 2017
"Gravity's Kiss: The Detection of Gravitational Waves", Harry Collins

Scientists have been trying to confirm the existence of gravitational waves for fifty years. Then, in September 2015, came a "very interesting event" (as the cautious subject line in a physicist's email read) that proved to be the first detection of gravitational waves. In Gravity's Kiss, Harry Collins -- who has been watching the science of gravitational wave detection for forty-three of those fifty years and has written three previous books about it -- offers a final, fascinating account, written in real time, of the unfolding of one of the most remarkable scientific discoveries ever made.

Predicted by Einstein in his theory of general relativity, gravitational waves carry energy from the collision or explosion of stars. Dying binary stars, for example, rotate faster and faster around each other until they merge, emitting a burst of gravitational waves. It is only with the development of extraordinarily sensitive, highly sophisticated detectors that physicists can now confirm Einstein's prediction. This is the story that Collins tells.