BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Mapping the Planets:
Discovering the Worlds Beyond Our Own
Leafing through Anne Rooney’s travelogue of the Solar System, you have to pinch yourself to realise that four centuries ago the worlds beyond Earth were known only as far-off points of light in a velvet sky. Within a few dozen generations, our eyes have been opened to what science writer and academic Rooney calls “a different type of mapping”. For the first time, astronomers moved beyond working out the orbits of the planets and recognised them as a brotherhood of dissimilar worlds, forged from the same melting pot as our own.
In Mapping the Planets, Rooney shines a light on our ancestors who first noticed the non-twinkling characteristic of what the Greeks called planetos; ‘wanderers’ which inexplicably moved in predictable patterns. She introduces us to ancient and medieval sky watchers and heated rivalries between the Ptolemaic and Copernican concepts of the cosmos, which presaged the birth of the telescope.
Rooney uncannily delights us at each turn of the page, stripping away the Solar System’s mysteries like an onion skin and firing our innate sense of wonder. She astounds us with the size and scale of the Sun’s worlds of rock and ice, their physical appearance thanks to visiting space probes, their complex surfaces thanks to rovers and landers and their contribution to understanding how we came to be. Reinforced by a gorgeous array of eye-popping imagery, Rooney’s well-crafted story juxtaposes the authority of a scientist with the eye of an artist and the wonder of a child. ★★★★★
Ben Evans is the author of several books on human spaceflight and is a science and astronomy writer