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Heaven's Touch: From Killer Stars to the Seeds of Life, How We Are Connected to the Universe

Popular Science

By: James B Kaler

248 pages, 54 halftones, 5 line illus

Princeton University Press

Hardback | Aug 2009 | #180665 | ISBN-13: 9780691129464
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £16.95 $22/€19 approx

About this book

Did you know that as you read these words showers of high-speed particles from exploding stars are raining down on you? As you gaze into the starry sky, you might feel isolated from the Universe around you - but you're not. This book reveals the startling ways life on Earth is touched by our cosmic environment, and demonstrates why without such contact, life itself wouldn't be possible. "Heaven's Touch" embarks on an unforgettable journey across the cosmos, beginning in near space with a look at the gentle ebb and flow of lunar and solar tides.
Acclaimed astronomer James Kaler describes their subtle effects on our world and also explores the Sun's more potent influences, such as solar storms that cause auroras, give comets their tails, and knock out power grids on Earth. He ventures across the Solar System to consider how the planets can act to produce climate change, even global disaster. Kaler shows how Jupiter's gravity can throw asteroids toward potentially devastating collision with Earth, and how even our whole Galaxy might hurl comet storms at us. He then takes us into deepest space to describe the cosmic rays launched at us from exploding stars, and considers not just how these exploders might harm us, but how they also join together in the creation of stars and how they serve to populate the Universe with the very building blocks of life. Informative and entertaining, "Heaven's Touch" reveals how intimately connected we really are with the dynamic Universe in which we live.

Kaler's writing is enthusiastic, and he conveys his own wonder and excitement at the myriad mysteries of the universe. His description of the effect of the sun and moon on the tides is thorough, as are his explanations of the source of the sun's energy and how an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter was discovered. -- Publisher's Weekly James Kaler has crafted an outstanding short introduction to astronomy and cosmology by adopting a point of view that I have not seen before in a popular account of the cosmos... Heaven's Touch is a passionate account both of humanity's tangible contact with the Universe at large and the profound influence of the Universe on life on Earth. -- Simon Mitton, Times Higher Education With the avuncular Professor as our guide, we are taken on a whirlwind tour of the Universe as we know and understand it and how, possibly, we came to be and very nearly not to be. He has a pleasingly straightforward style and, wherever possible, tries to steer clear of complex scientific jargon... Professor Kaler has attempted to enliven what could be a complicated and uninteresting topic, and through linking everything together via his well explained engaging text, he has admirably succeeded. -- Astronomy Now This very readable book presents the many and various ways Earth and life here are connected to and affected by the universe, on scales ranging from local (within Earth's solar system) to cosmic (back to the big bang). Kaler, an experienced astronomy educator and researcher, provides a fascinating account of how human existence is due to events that happened long, long ago and far, far away... For professional astronomers tempted to write a popular yet accurate account of their pet interest, this book is a lesson in how to do it superbly. -- Choice Read this book. You will find yourself listening and capturing information from the mind of someone who treats science as more of an ethereal topic; not as a bunch of formulas, but as a thing of beauty. Anyone can read Heaven's Touch, from the hardcore scientist to the newly-introduced amateur, and come out with a better understanding of the subject. -- Francine Jackson, Planetarian Heaven's Touch is a stimulating, clarifying work of popular astronomy and cosmology. -- Maui News Written in a style which reduces complex processes into manageable bites, yet containing numerous facts and figures, this book works well as good read and will also perform as a reference book, allowing the reader to dip in and out if a short explanation of a particular event is required. Overall this is a well written, eye opening account of how we are affected by Heaven's Touch. -- Phil Brotherwood, FAS Newsletter Among the many things I like about Heaven's Touch is that, as scary as some of the cosmic scenarios Kaler depicts may seem, the book's goals ... are to inspire and inform rather than intimidate... I applaud Kaler's achievement and recommend his book to teachers of astronomy and to their students. -- Naomi Pasachoff, Newsletter of IAU Commission 46 on Education and Development


Preface and Acknowledgments xi Chapter 1: Reaching Out 1 Stars 2 Planets 4 Light 5 The Milky Way 8 Galaxies 11 The Universe 12 Darkness 14 Heaven's Touch 17 Chapter 2: Tides of Life 21 (1) Gravity 22 (2) Phases 25 Tidal Stretching 27 Tidal Lag 29 Tidal Clock 30 Now Add the Sun ... 31 ... And Elliptical Orbits 32 "Time and Tide ..." 34 How High the Moon 37 It's Mutual 39 Chapter 3: Solar Storm 42 Neutrinos Going to Get You (Even If You Do Watch Out) 44 (1) Oatmeal 48 (2) Spin 51 Magnetism 51 Windy Crown 52 eturn to Earth ... 56 ... And Get Hit 57 Vanishing Act, Part I 60 Solar Cycle 61 Effects 62 Vanishing Act, Part II 64 Vibes 65 Chapter 4: Frozen Earth 67 Seasons 68 Wobbles 72 Planets 75 In Motion 77 The Celestial Mechanic 79 Planets Perturbed 81 God of the Sea 82 Changing Earth 85 Message from Mercury 86 Tip and Bend 87 Mister Milankovitch 90 Chapter 5: The Accidental Asteroid 93 Numerology 94 Origins 96 Child on a Swing 100 Resonating Asteroids 102 Kick on Goal 103 A Shocking Story 104 Heaven's Rocks 107 Interpretation 108 A Steady Rain 110 And Then the Hailstorm 111 Wipeout 113 And Now? 116 Pitch and Catch 117 Chapter 6: Crashing Comets 120 Tale of the Chainsaw 120 A Tale of Two Tails 121 A Scary Tail Tale 123 Structure 125 Getting Back (Twice) 127 Breaking Up (Is Not That Hard to Do) 128 "Passing Showers" 130 Twilight of the Dust 132 Pathways 133 Kuiper 134 So What's Pluto? 135 O ort 137 There and Back 137 Collision 139 Strikes and More Showers 141 Water 143 Spacefarers 144 Chapter 7: Atomic Rain 145 Radiation 145 Stumbling in the Dark 146 "Energy, People, Energy!" 149 Kinds 150 Composition 152 Long-Lost Origins 152 Star Lives 154 Boom 158 That Pesky High End 162 (1, 2) Star Formation 163 (3) Laundry 165 (4) From Lost Times 166 But 168 (5) Donner and Blitzen 169 (6) Bound for Space 171 Chapter 8: Super Star 173 Yesteryear 174 1054, 1572, 1885, and A' That 178 I and II 180 Chandra's Limit 181 March of the Supernovae 185 Closer Yet? 187 A Bad Tan and Other Disasters 189 Penguins, Soybeans, and Ants 192 Catch a Falling Neutrino 194 Shocks and Fields 195 Chapter 9: Hyperstars 199 In the Navy 199 Identification 202 Long Bursts 204 Hypernovae 205 Sliding into the Pit 207 Into a Black Hole 209 And What Does All This Mean? 212 And in the Future? 213 Afterglow 216 Safety Zone 218 Quick Time 218 Magnetar: The Future Is Here 219 Chapter 10: Coming Home 223 In the Beginning 223 Ancient Stars and Forming Galaxies 225 At the Table 228 Neutrons 232 Rapid Capture 234 A Story from Other Worlds 236 Heaven's Touch 238 Index 241

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James B. Kaler is professor emeritus of astronomy at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His many books include "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Stars" and "The Hundred Greatest Stars".

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