Books  Physical Sciences  Cosmology & Astronomy 

From Dust to Life: The Origin and Evolution of Our Solar System

Popular Science

By: John Chambers (Author), Jacqueline Mitton (Author)

299 pages, 41 b/w photos, 19 b/w illustrations, 7 tables

Princeton University Press

Hardback | Dec 2013 | #206496 | ISBN-13: 9780691145228
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £19.95 $24/€22 approx

About this book

The birth and evolution of our solar system is a tantalizing mystery that may one day provide answers to the question of human origins. From Dust to Life tells the remarkable story of how the celestial objects that make up the solar system arose from common beginnings billions of years ago, and how scientists and philosophers have sought to unravel this mystery down through the centuries, piecing together the clues that enabled them to deduce the solar system's layout, its age, and the most likely way it formed.

Drawing on the history of astronomy and the latest findings in astrophysics and the planetary sciences, John Chambers and Jacqueline Mitton offer the most up-to-date and authoritative treatment of the subject available. They examine how the evolving universe set the stage for the appearance of our Sun, and how the nebulous cloud of gas and dust that accompanied the young Sun eventually became the planets, comets, moons, and asteroids that exist today. They explore how each of the planets acquired its unique characteristics, why some are rocky and others gaseous, and why one planet in particular – our Earth – provided an almost perfect haven for the emergence of life.

From Dust to Life is a must-read for anyone who desires to know more about how the solar system came to be. This enticing book takes readers to the very frontiers of modern research, engaging with the latest controversies and debates. From Dust to Life reveals how ongoing discoveries of far-distant extrasolar planets and planetary systems are transforming our understanding of our own solar system's astonishing history and its possible fate.

"[T]here is much solid information to be gleaned from careful reading."
Publishers Weekly

"[A] stellar read [...] "

"This is not your average tour of our solar system. Using clear, relatively jargon-free language, Chambers and Mitton provide a comprehensive examination of our current understanding of its formation, which should readily appeal to the general reader who enjoys scientific detail without getting into equations."
Library Journal

"I recently built an app about the solar system, and my research would have been made a lot easier if I had possessed a copy of this excellent book. It provides a truly comprehensive overview of our solar system's origins and is written in plain, jargon-free language."
– Marcus Chown, New Scientist

"Chambers and Mitton stay focused on the science in From Dust to Life: unlike other books that create narratives around the scientists, they discuss the science and the history of its development, rather than the individuals who made it possible. That's a worthwhile trade: while there have been, and are today, interesting people studying the formation of the solar system, the science is even more fascinating as we find out just how complex the process is to turn a cloud of gas and dust into a star and planets."
– Jeff Foust, Space Review

"[I]ncredibly thorough and detailed, yet very accessible to non-scientists too [...] [A] compelling overview of the evolution of the Solar System."
– Katia Moskvitch, BBC Sky at Night

"Read From Dust to Life to gain a fascinating perspective on the current state of the science behind solar system formation."
– David Dickinson, Astro Guys blog

"As an astrophysicist credentialed in the days before the space era, I figured reading another book on the solar system would be a big yawn. Surprise! I couldn't have been more wrong! Here is an eye-opening up-to-date reconnaissance of what's in our part of the universe and how it has evolved. Along the way, this arresting account reveals how unique our planetary system really is."
– Owen Gingerich, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"The origin of our solar system is among the hottest and most fascinating research topics in all of planetary science and astronomy. Chambers and Mitton have produced a compelling and up-to-date survey of this field that reads quickly and authoritatively and leaves no stone unturned in surveying the landscape of this vast and rich topic. I recommend it with gusto!"
– Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute

"John Chambers is one of the world's leading authorities on the origin of the solar system, and here, together with Jacqueline Mitton, provides an engaging summary of the new discoveries for a wider audience. This book is unquestionably the most up-to-date and authoritative popular presentation of current thinking on the subject."
– Philip J. Armitage, author of Astrophysics of Planet Formation

"There is no other book out there that discusses the origin of the solar system in this much detail yet is still accessible to nonscientists. Chambers and Mitton do an excellent job of keeping abreast of the notable discoveries in recent years."
– Jane Luu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"An exciting and rewarding read from cover to cover. You come away feeling well-served and well-educated. This is a great book."
– Erik Asphaug, University of California, Santa Cruz


List of Illustrations xi
Preface xv

ONE Cosmic Archaeology 1
A fascination with the past 1
A solar system to explain 3
Real worlds 9
Winding back the clock 12
Putting the pieces together 16

TWO Discovering the Solar System 19
Measuring the solar system 19
From wandering gods to geometrical constructions 22
The Sun takes center stage 25
Laws and order 27
Gravity rules 29
The missing planet 31
Asteroids enter the scene 34
Rocks in space 36
Uranus behaving badly 37
Completing the inventory 40

THREE An Evolving Solar System 43
A changing world 43
A nebulous idea begins to take shape 44
The nebular hypothesis in trouble 48
A chance encounter? 50
Nebular theory resurrected 54

FOUR The Question of Timing 56
Reading the cosmic clock 57
Early estimates: ingenious--but wrong 57
Geology versus physics 58
Radioactivity changes everything 61
Hubble and the age of the universe 63
How radioactive timers work 64
Meteorites hold the key 68
Dating the Sun 71
The age of the universe revisited 73

FIVE Meteorites 75
A dramatic entrance 75
Where do meteorites come from? 76
Irons and stones 80
Identifying the parents 83
Lunar and Martian meteorites 86
A rare and precious resource 87
What meteorites can tell us 88

SIX Cosmic Chemistry 92
Element 43: first a puzzle then a clue 92
An abundance of elements 94
The first elements 96
Cooking in the stellar furnace 98
Building heavier elements 104
Supernovae 105

SEVEN A Star Is Born 108
A child of the Milky Way 108
Where stars are born 110
First steps to a solar system 113
The solar system's birth environment 119
Essential ingredients 121

EIGHT Nursery for Planets 123
An excess of infrared 123
Two kinds of disks 125
Inside the solar nebula 129
Getting the dust to stick 131
The influence of gas 134
How to build planetesimals 135
The demise of the disk 137

NINE Worlds of Rock and Metal 140
Sisters but not twins 140
The era of planetesimals 141
Planetary embryos take over 144
The final four 147
Earth 148
Mercury 153
Venus 158
Mars 161

TEN the Making of the Moon 168
The Moon today 169
What the Moon is made of 170
The Moon's orbit 172
The fission theory 174
The capture hypothesis 175
The coaccretion hypothesis 176
The giant impact hypothesis 177
Encounter with Theia 179
Earth, Moon, and tidal forces 181
Late heavy bombardment 183

ELEVEN Earth, Cradle of Life 186
The Hadean era 186
The tree of life 191
The building blocks of life 193
The rise of oxygen 196
A favorable climate 199
Snowball Earth 202
Future habitability 204

TWELVE Worlds of Gas and Ice 205
Giants of the solar system 205
Building giants by core accretion 211
The disk instability model 214
Spin and tilt 215
Masters of many moons 217
Formation of regular satellites 219
The origin of irregular satellites 220
Rings 221

THIRTEEN What Happened to the Asteroid Belt? 225
The asteroid belt today 225
Ground down by collisions? 226
Emptied by gravity? 229
Asteroid families 231
The missing mantle problem 233
Asteroids revealed as worlds 236

FOURTEEN The Outermost Solar System 242
Where do comets come from? 242
Centaurs 246
Looking beyond Neptune 247
The Kuiper belt 248
Sedna 251
The nature of trans-Neptunian
objects 252
Where have all the Plutos gone? 256
The Nice model 259

FIFTEEN Epilogue: Paradigms, Problems, and Predictions 263
The paradigm: solar system evolution in a nutshell 264
Unsolved puzzles 267
Searching the solar system for answers 268
Other planetary systems 271
Future evolution of the solar system 273

Glossary 277
Sources and Further Reading 291
Index 293

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John Chambers is a planetary scientist in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Jacqueline Mitton is a writer, editor, and media consultant in astronomy. Her books include Titan Unveiled: Saturn's Mysterious Moon Explored (Princeton).

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