Moons A Very Short In­tro­duc­tion

Sky at Night Magazine - - BOOKS -

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.

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