The solar system has always been a messy place in which gravity wreaks havoc. Moons form, asteroids and comets crash into planets, ice ages commence, and dinosaurs disappear. By describing the dramatic consequences of such disturbances, this authoritative and entertaining book reveals the fundamental interconnectedness of the solar system--and what it means for life on Earth. After relating a brief history of the solar system, Alan Rubin describes how astronomers determined our location in the Milky Way. He provides succinct and up-to-date accounts of the energetic interactions among planetary bodies, the generation of the Earth's magnetic field, the effects of other solar-system objects on our climate, the moon's genesis, the heating of asteroids, and the origin of the mysterious tektites. Along the way, Rubin introduces us to the individual scientists--including the famous, the now obscure, and the newest generation of researchers--who have enhanced our understanding of the galactic neighborhood.
He shows how scientific discoveries are made; he discusses the uncertainty that presides over the boundaries of knowledge as well as the occasional reluctance of scientists to change their minds even when confronted by compelling evidence. This fresh historical perspective reveals science as it is: an imperfect but self-correcting enterprise. Journeying to the frontiers of knowledge, Rubin concludes with the exciting realm of astrobiology. He chronicles the history of the search for life on Mars and describes cutting-edge lines of astrobiological inquiry, including panspermia (the possible transfer of life from planet to planet), the likelihood of technologically advanced alien civilizations in our galaxy, and our probable responses to alien contact. Authoritative and up-to-date but also entertaining and fluidly written, Disturbing the Solar System will appeal to any reader who has ever picked up a rock or gazed at the moon with a sense of wonder.
Alan E. Rubin is a research geochemist in the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of more than 120 scientific papers. In honor of his research contributions, asteroid 6227 was named Alanrubin in 2002.
Preface xi PART 1: Overview of the Solar System I. A Brief History of the Solar System 3 II. Where Are We? The Location of the Solar System 17 III. Heat Sources 33 PART 2: Earth and Moon IV. The Magnetic Earth 47 V. Ice Ages 63 VI. Origin of the Moon 84 PART 3: Small Bodies, Impacts, and Rings VII. Asteroids and Meteorites 99 VIII. What Heated the Asteroids? 118 IX. Mesosiderites: Biography of a Shocked and Melted Asteroid 129 X. Meteor Crater 143 XI. The Lunar Crater Controversy--a Brief Retelling 158 XII. Dinosaurs and the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction 167 XIII. Recent Impacts: Tunguska to Shoemaker-Levy 9 183 XIV. Tektites: A Glass Menagerie 200 XV. Rings and Shepherds 215 PART 4: Life beyond Earth XVI. The Search for Life on Mars 235 XVII. Panspermia 259 XVIII. Paucity of Aliens 281 XIX. Human Response to First Contact 299 Epilogue 321 Glossary 325 Additional Reading 343 Index 353