For millennia the planets have fascinated mankind. But only in the last 40 years have those wandering points of light in the night sky been revealed in all their glory, unmasked by a fleet of satellites and interplanetary probes: Cassini, Deep Space I, Galileo, Hubble Space Telescope, Magellan, Mariner, Mars Global Surveyor, NEAR Shoemaker, Stardust, SOHO, TRACE, Viking, and Voyagers I & II, to name but a few. And the closer we look, the more wonderful they are: Venus' clouds are laced with sulphuric acid; water once flowed over Mars' deserts; on Jupiter wind speeds reach 10 000 kph (6000 mph) and storms rage for centuries; Saturn is surrounded by a swarm of 34 moons; and diamonds rain from Neptune's skies.Moving out from the Sun, every planet and moon is visited in a journey that takes us a full light year out into space, to the very fringes of the solar system where the Sun is no longer the brightest star in the sky. With nearly 200 spectacular images, The Planets follows the tracks of robotic rovers over Mars, plunges through Titan's atmosphere on the back of the Hugyens probe, smashes into a comet with Deep Impact, and discovers the frozen planets that lurk at the edge of our solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune.
Giles Sparrow studied Astronomy at University College London, and Science Communication at Imperial College. He has acted as consultant and contributor on numerous popular science books, and is the author of, amongst others, The Universe and How to See it (Readers' Digest, 2001). He was recently a major contributor to Universe (Dorling Kindersley, 2005).