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Book Reviews

The Cosmic Keyhole
Author: Will Gater

Publisher: Springer

ISBN: 978-1-4419-0512-3

Price: £26.99 (Hb), 247pp

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It's not often I come across a book that puts the 'wow!' factor into astronomy. This latest offering from former Astronomy Now contributor Will Gater is certainly one of them. This is a journey through astronomical discoveries past, and what we have learned from and since then. There is plenty new to learn here.

Chapters on the discovery of possibly salty oceans within outer Solar System moons are directly related to others on the cutting-edge science of extremophilic organisms that may populate such hidden oceans, and the ever-increasing total of extrasolar planets we now know of. I confess I have a tendency to read books really slowly, but this is a genuine page-turner, leaving you almost breathless by the end of most chapters. I'm not entirely sure how Gater does it, but some of his descriptions are almost poetic, like this description of Titan: '...Titan appeared in creamy-orange pastel colours with a striking halo of vibrant blue haze across one limb where the Sun was illuminating nitrogen hazes...' Equally brought back-to-life is the excitement of the long descent of the Huygens probe onto Titan's very alien surface in 2005. Gater adds to the raw rush of the time with the science that has now been performed on the data that was gathered.

Gater doesn't stop in our neighbourhood. He goes on to explain what we have learned about supernovae from SN1987A and gamma-ray bursts since the launch of Chandra and other X-ray observatories. The Hubble Space Telescope and its mighty contribution to astronomy rightly gets a chapter all to itself.

The text is very up-to-date in terms of the latest science, although a discussion on the possibility of water on the Moon already seems quite outdated given the recent LCROSS impact results. What really lets this book down is the inclusion of far too few images and those, admittedly very nicely reproduced ones, that are included have been bunched together rather incongruously in the middle. The beautiful textual descriptions could have been enhanced so much just by sticking a good image somewhere in the relevant chapter.

If you follow developments in astronomy closely, then you'll probably not find a lot that is very new in here, other than the finest example of how popular science should be written. For those that have a curiosity about the Universe and would like to catch-up with all that has been happening in the past few years, then this book really is a must-buy. I have to confess I'd never heard of Will Gater before receiving this text, which must be a pity, because this really is the most outstanding writing I've read in a very long time.

John Rowlands

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