Solar System (Foundations of Earth Science)

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9780138220075: Solar System (Foundations of Earth Science)
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The Solar System offers an introduction to the geology of our solar system grounded in the author's unique background in both earth science and astrophysics. Written to be accessible to both the sciences and nonscience major, The Solar System provides the most up-to-date discussion of our current understanding of planetary formation. One the cover: Mars, as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope, between April and May of 1999 when Mars was only 54 million miles from Earth, its closest approach in eight years. The area of dark sand dunes that surround the polar cap is composed of dark, sand-sized grains of pulverized volcanic rock. Below and to the left are the massive Martian canyon systems of Valles Marineris. Early morning clouds can be seen along the edge of the planet, and a large cyclonic storm composed of water ice is churning near the polar cap. (Photo an excerpted caption courtesy of NASA.)

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Almost everything we know about the planets and other members of the Solar System has been learned in the last 50 years, a span of time that fits within the age of many of us alive today. Planetary science, all but nonexistent before World War II, has burgeoned into a rich storehouse of information with surprises at every turn. The growth of the field was part of a general expansion of scientific research that occurred after the war, but it became especially accelerated when space emerged as a technological battleground in the Cold War. What we learned as a by-product of this struggle has become a scientific discipline in its own right.

This book is an almost completely rewritten update of my previous book by the same title, published by Prentice Hall in 1979 as a member of the Foundations of Earth Science Series. That is nearly halfway back along the 50-year time line just described. Much has happened since 1979. The first spacecraft images of satellites of the giant planets did not quite make it into the first edition. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Voyager and Galileo missions have since opened up the outer planets and their satellites to us. Galileo also visited several asteroids, and the European Space Agency (ESA) Giotto spacecraft made a perilous reconnaissance of a comet nucleus. Since the 1979 edition was written Soviet spacecraft have landed on the scorching surface of Venus, and U.S. spacecraft (Pioneer Venus, Magellan) have mapped the planet through the clouds, using radar. The Hubble Space Telescope has shown us stars and planetary systems as they are being formed. Groundbased observatories have located other stars with orbiting planets, and have found the Kuiper belt of comet nuclei circling our own system. Laboratory and computer studies have spawned new concepts, such as the Martian origin of some meteorites and an early giant impact on the earth that created the moon. We have realized what caused the mass extinction of species on Earth at the end of the Cretaceous period of geologic time, and located the crater where impact of an asteroid or comet dealt its murderous blow.

Less exciting than these advances is the fact that the author is 20 years older than he was when the 1979 edition (written on a typewriter, not a computer) was submitted for publication. Age brings the loss of many valued capabilities, but allegedly one is compensated by gains in perspective and depth of insight. I hope this book reflects such a gain. It is more comprehensive in its coverage than the 1979 edition, though somewhat less rigorous in its treatment than that edition tried to be.

About the questions at the end of each chapter of this edition: Many are not easy to answer, and in some cases it may not even be possible to tell if they are answered correctly. These questions were not designed to be assigned to students to answer and hand in. Instead, they are meant to make students think and, perhaps, to serve as a focus for classroom discussion. Some of the questions have no "correct" answers.

Planetary science is an uncommonly broad field, knitting together contributions made by astronomers, geologists, physicists, chemists, and other specialists in a very wide variety of topics. These facets of the science are so interdependent that it is difficult to explain any one of them in the absence of some understanding of the rest of the field. For that reason it seemed desirable to devote the first chapter of this book to a brief survey of the whole subject. I hope this distillation will provide the reader with a context that he or she can put the other nine chapters into.

Another consequence of the broad interdisciplinary nature of planetary science is that it is impossible for one person to have an expert knowledge of all the topics that need to be discussed. It would be nice to be thought of as a person with great breadth of understanding, but the actual truth is the writer was totally dependent upon the help and critical advice of colleagues in a variety of fields far from his own. Without their help I would not have had the confidence to submit this manuscript for publication. Specifically, the following experts reviewed individual chapters for me, and I am very grateful to them: Richard P. Binzel (M.LT.), Roger Buck (Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University), Patrick Cassen (NASA Ames Research Center), Richard Goody (Harvard University), Richard A. Grieve (Geological Survey of Canada), Timothy L. Grove (M.LT), John Huchra (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Jack J. Lissauer (NASA Ames Research Center), Brian G. Marsden (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Seth Stein (Northwestern University), and Yuhang Wang (Georgia Institute of Technology).

Valuable advice has also been given me by D. D. Clayton, G. Ryder, G. Wetherill, and Y. Yung. A number of colleagues have been helpful in providing me with figures or data for use in the book: S. Amari, W. Andrewes, T. J. Bernatowicz, D. E. Brownlee, A. G. W. Cameron, I. Halliday, C. Hanson, H. Holweger, A. J. Irving, H. U. Keller, J. Li, G. J. MacPherson, C. B. Moore, S. Murrell, H. J. Newberg, K. Nichols, H. Palme, A. Pun, D. M. Raup, D. J. Roddy, and E. Zinner; also the kind people at Sky and Telescope (J. K. Beatty, D. Di Cicco, and I. Joson) and the Lunar and Planetary Institute (G. Ryder, A. Treiman, and Mary Ann Hager). Thank you very much!

Figures credited (NASA photograph) were obtained from the National Space Science Data Center. Hubble Space Telescope images are courtesy of the Space Telescope Science Institute, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., from NASA contract NAS5-26555, and are reproduced with permission from AURA/StSci.

John A. Wood
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

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John Armstead Wood
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