Moons A Very Short Introduction
David A Rothery Oxford University Press £7.99 HB
The Moon has always held a powerful sway over humanity, forming an integral part of the cultures and religions of Earth. And, as David Rothery points out in this delightful new pocketbook, some of the oldest artwork – 30,000-year-old bone plates engraved with dots and lines – is believed by some archaeologists to represent the changing phases of the Moon over 30 nights.
As a series, the Very Short Introduction format is extremely concise and doesn’t afford much room for digging into the depths of a subject, but Rothery certainly makes the most of it here, offering a brilliant bite-sized taster on these fascinating objects. He serves up a blistering tour of the incredibly diverse menagerie of moons in our Solar System, as well as the profound effects the Moon has had on life on Earth (for example stabilising the spin axis of our world to keep the global climate relatively constant) and how we may even mine its pristine surface for valuable commodities in the near future.
My favourite story is the curious case of Iapetus, which was discovered by Giovanni Cassini in 1671. Cassini was utterly perplexed that he could only see the moon when it was on the western side of Saturn, and never on the other side of its orbit. He realised that this must be because Iapetus is very dark on one half and bright on the other face (like a cosmic 3D yin and yang) – a feature that has now been shown in astonishing detail by our space probes. DR LEWIS DARTNELL is a UK Space Agency research fellow and author of The Knowledge.