Between the lines
Feb 16, 2017
Taken from the February 2017 issue of Physics World
Books about meteorology in under a minute and the latest on astrophotography, reviewed by Tushna Commissariat
Heat waves and halcyon days
Trying to explain a scientific concept in 30 seconds or less is a rather difficult but worthy task. In 30-Second Meteorology: the 50 Most Significant Events and Phenomena, Each Explained in Half a Minute nine leading UK meteorologists tackle the basic terms and ideas we need to know to understand our planet’s ever-changing weather and climate. The book is divided into seven sections including the global atmosphere, the Sun and extreme weather. Each section opens with a glossary and includes a profile of a stalwart of the field – such as Edward Norton Lorenz and Milutin Milankovitch (though one can’t help noticing that not a single female scientist gets a mention). Edited by the UK Met Office’s Adam Scaife, each page-long entry includes a one-sentence definition of the concept, a slightly longer factoid, the main entry (each of which is only about 200 words) and a cross-reference of related topics. The book’s layout (an entry on one page with an illustration opposite) is consistent, making it an easy reference book or one that you can just dip into. The book’s distinctive art style, a cross between digital mixed-media and old-school collage, makes it visually appealing. Readers will find that most entries clearly explain everything from snow and sundogs to space weather and the polar vortex. What is slightly off-putting, though, is the section entitled “Can we change the weather?” Oddly, it does not talk about geo-engineering; instead, it covers topics such as the ozone hole and global warming. While the book does not shy away from discussing global warming, the section-title’s tone suggests that its effects may be seen in the future, rather than acknowledging that they are already in play. This seems like pandering to climate-change sceptics, something that no scientific book can afford to do today.
- Ivy Press 2016 160pp £14.99hb
Astronomy and the coffee-table book are very common bedfellows, and for good reason. As our imaging and processing capabilities have excelled over the past 30 years since the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), we have been privy to some truly stunning images of the cosmos. Naturally then, incandescent celestial images have graced the glossy pages of many a book, and Astrophotography: the Most Spectacular Astronomical Images of the Universe is no different in that aspect. Written and compiled by Cardiff University astronomer Rhodri Evans, the book includes nearly 200 pictures from across the electromagnetic spectrum – X-ray, radio, infrared, microwave and, of course, visible light – compiled for your viewing pleasure. The book opens with information on 19 different ground-based telescopes and 10 different spacecraft that have taken the images, and also includes a detailed glossary. Divided into five parts, the pictures span from the solar system, to the Milky Way, to our Local Group of galaxies, beyond the Local Group and, finally, to the “edge of the universe”. It is fair to wonder just who would want to buy a large, hardbound book of astronomy images when the Internet is overrun with them, but this is where Evans’ commentary comes into its own. Anyone with even a passing interest in astronomy is sure to have come across the iconic HST image of the “pillars of creation” in the Eagle nebula. The original 1995 image and the updated version from 2014 are compared and contrasted in the book, with differences in the imaging quality as well as physical changes pointed out, giving this popular image new context. It’s also good to see additions from the most recent space missions, such as pictures of Pluto and Comet 67P via New Horizons and the Rosetta mission, mixed in with old favourites. Pick up a copy of Astrophotography to update yourself on some of the most iconic and awe-inspiring celestial images of our times.
- Andre Deutsch 2016 192pp £25hb