Solar System, by Marcus Chown
Sedna is the most distant known body orbiting the Sun, five times further out than Eris, ten times as far as Makemake and Haumea, five hundred times further than the Earth. And this book has a photo of it.
The last book I read about the Solar System was called Planets and was written by Carl Sagen for the Life Science Library in 1967. The Solar System had nine planets then, thirty-one moons, one star, one asteroid belt and extended out to just beyond the orbit of Pluto, around about 8 billion km. The A4 sized book had a couple of dozen small fuzzy and blurry photos of the planets taken at the upper limits of telescopic resolution and an awful lot of words. My interest in real astronomy started with that book.
Solar System, the book, is about the same size and about the same length, has a few dozen short paragraphs of text and I think well over a thousand high-definition colour photographs covering every major body in the Solar System. Said Solar System now comprises eight planets, five dwarf planets, a hundred and sixty-two moons, one star, one asteroid belt, one Kuiper belt, one Oort cloud and extends roughly half way to the next star, around about two light years.
Designed as an electronic book for the iPad and now published as a hardback photo book Solar System has brilliant photos, cutaway diagrams of each planet and many of the bigger moons, little tables and bar charts of orbital parameters, atmospheric compositions and temperature ranges, and diagrams comparing the size of each object with things like the Moon, the Earth, Texas and Manhattan. There’s not much text, just a couple of paragraphs a page and that’s probably a good thing as its very sound-bitey, but never mind, that doesn’t matter, it’s the format and the pictures that count. The pages are black and that works really work well for these photos. I’d have liked them to be bigger (same content, everything enlarged, the bigger the better for these pictures), but that’s just a niggle.
I think this is being positioned as a coffee-table book, but it should not be that. It’s a starter to kindle a new generation’s interest in astronomy and the universe. If you’re ever looking for a present for a small person (or even a big one), you’ve found it.