Death from the Skies!
A lively astronomy primer that uses cataclysmic scenarios to explain the universe's most fascinating events.According to astronomer Philip Plait, the universe is an apocalypse waiting to happen But how much do we really need to fear from things like black holes, gamma-ray bursts, and supernovae? And if we should be scared, is there anything we can do to save ourselves? With humor and wit, Plait details the myriad doomsday events that the cosmos could send our way to destroy our planet and life as we know it. This authoritative yet accessible study is the ultimate astronomy lesson. Combining fascinating and often alarming scenarios that seem plucked from science fiction with the latest research and opinions, Plait illustrates why outer space is not as remote as most people think. Each chapter explores a different phenomenon, explaining it in easy-to-understand terms, and considering how life on earth and the planet itself would be affected should the event come to pass. Rather than sensationalizing the information, Plait analyzes the probability of these catastrophes occurring in our lifetimes and what we can do to stop them. With its entertaining tone and enlightening explanation of unfathomable concepts, Death from the Skies! will appeal to science buffs and beginners alike.

Death from the Skies! Details

TitleDeath from the Skies!
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 16th, 2008
PublisherViking Adult
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Science, Astronomy, Space

Death from the Skies! Review

  • Melki
    January 1, 1970
    AAAAAAAA!!! We're all going to die!!!!Well, that's not exactly news. From the moment we're born, Death turns our hourglass and sits twiddling his bony thumbs, waiting as our grains of sand dribble toward the bottom.But...there's a chance, however remote, that...We're going to die HORRIBLY! Gasping for breath as our oxygen burns up, pulverized to death by a shockwave, or even SPAGHETTIFIED into nothingness by a Black Hole.Each chapter begins with a Worst Case Scenario, made/>We're AAAAAAAA!!! We're all going to die!!!!Well, that's not exactly news. From the moment we're born, Death turns our hourglass and sits twiddling his bony thumbs, waiting as our grains of sand dribble toward the bottom.But...there's a chance, however remote, that...We're going to die HORRIBLY! Gasping for breath as our oxygen burns up, pulverized to death by a shockwave, or even SPAGHETTIFIED into nothingness by a Black Hole.Each chapter begins with a Worst Case Scenario, made even scarier by the use of italics. (OOO-WOO-ooo!) Then the author gets down to business, describing how and if such a thing could possibly happen, and what, if anything we can do to prevent it. Besides asteroid and comet impacts, alien attacks, and roaming black holes, add solar flares and gamma-ray bursts to your list of worries. My previous knowledge of astronomy was gleaned from a few episodes of Cosmos that I watched back in the eighties because I thought Carl Sagan was kinda cute. And though I still can't claim to fully understand, well, any of this stuff, I found this book to be ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING!!! Some of the concepts are just so hard to wrap your head around - a spoonful of neutrino star matter would weigh A BILLION TONS! And how do you begin to envision a black hole moving at 500 MILES PER SECOND? Plait is obviously in love with his subject matter, and that makes reading this a joy. How else can someone make our imminent (well, give or take a few billion years...) demise sound like a breathtaking, must-see event?I thought the scenarios presented in this book would bother me a whole lot more than they did, but I'm left with a sort of Que Sera, Sera vibe. There's really nothing we can do about most of this stuff. If there's a black hole barreling down on us, you can't do much but put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.At the end of the book, there is a handy-dandy Threat-Down type chart, listing our chances of being wiped out by a cataclysmic event. Despite the dire predictions, the odds seem to be ever in our favor. Congratulations! You only have a 1 in 700,000 chance of dying by asteroid impact. Our universe is aging. Stars will explode and blink out. Eventually, there will be no matter left to create new stars, and then...there will be nothing left but dark and empty space. We humans will be long gone by then, but DAMN!!! We had a great run, didn't we?I'll end with one of my favorite paragraphs from the book:What does this mean for us, for humans? To a good approximation, it means we have about 100 trillion years to get our affairs in order. After that, we won't have enough light to read our books by. Things'll get boring.
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  • Todd N
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed this book. It's a collection of esoteric topics in astronomy all tied together by one thing -- they could possibly destroy the Earth or at least most of the life on it.Each chapter covers a particular threat -- asteroids and comets, solar events, death of the sun, stuff in our galaxy, etc. It ends with a mind bending chapter on the death of the Universe -- after the galaxies have dissolved and protons have started decaying.I learned a lot from this book. I really enjoyed this book. It's a collection of esoteric topics in astronomy all tied together by one thing -- they could possibly destroy the Earth or at least most of the life on it.Each chapter covers a particular threat -- asteroids and comets, solar events, death of the sun, stuff in our galaxy, etc. It ends with a mind bending chapter on the death of the Universe -- after the galaxies have dissolved and protons have started decaying.I learned a lot from this book. If you were into astronomy as a kid, you'll be surprised to know how much more about the Universe has been discovered even over the past 10 years.If you are a fan of Dr. Plait's Bad Astronomy Blog, then you are already aware that he's an excellent writer and adept at explaining complex topics simply. I didn't find his first book very engaging, and the strident skeptical tone that he sometimes adopts in that book and his blog is completely absent here. Highly recommended.
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  • Sam
    January 1, 1970
    I absolutely loved this book! As one who has often been utterly confused by physics (especially the physics of space and time) but still completely fascinated this book has answered my physics prayers. Plait has managed to take an extremely complex subject and make it comprehensible to those outside the physics bubble (or maybe I should say universe...). Obviously this book does deal with huge scales of both time and distance but Plait uses everyday comparisons (well where he can anyway) to give I absolutely loved this book! As one who has often been utterly confused by physics (especially the physics of space and time) but still completely fascinated this book has answered my physics prayers. Plait has managed to take an extremely complex subject and make it comprehensible to those outside the physics bubble (or maybe I should say universe...). Obviously this book does deal with huge scales of both time and distance but Plait uses everyday comparisons (well where he can anyway) to give the reader a chance of getting their heads around the scales involved. His passion for physics and for astronomy comes through throughout the book and fills the reader with a joy and awe despite the devastating consequences of the events Plait describes. I was strangely uplifted by his descriptions of the death of the Sun and of near galaxy supernovae that could ultimately wipe us out. Overall a fantastic read and I can't wait to read more from Plait and more about astronomy in general (although in doing so I'm sure I'll be referring back to this book to clarify some of the more complicated points).
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  • Berit Lundqvist
    January 1, 1970
    Yesterday night, I was out watching the Blood Moon, a phenomenon wich comes with evil intent, according to several ancient legends.What could be more appropriate when space is coming to get us? And in space, as we all know, no one can hear you scream.Phil Plait has written a very entertaining book about how the world will end, and the science behind it. And there are so many possibilities! We might be hit by an asteroid. We can die from an exploding or a dying star. We ca Yesterday night, I was out watching the Blood Moon, a phenomenon wich comes with evil intent, according to several ancient legends.What could be more appropriate when space is coming to get us? And in space, as we all know, no one can hear you scream.Phil Plait has written a very entertaining book about how the world will end, and the science behind it. And there are so many possibilities! We might be hit by an asteroid. We can die from an exploding or a dying star. We can be devoured by a black hole. And, of course, the classic alien invasion. So many choices!Each chapter starts with a description of how the catastrophe in question. In some cases, the danger is preventable, at least in theory, but in most cases not so much.In the end, to paraphrase my current book-boyfriend Mark Whatney in ”The Martian”: We are all so fucked. The universe itself will die. Sorry for the spoiler.Two memorable quotes:”They say that even the brightest star won’t shine forever. But in fact, the brightest star would live the shortest amount amount of time. Feel free to extract whatever life lesson you want from that.””Science asymptotically approaches reality.”
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  • Jill
    January 1, 1970
    Came across this book, and it fit in with my current obsession of post-apocalyptic stories. This non-fiction book looks at different ways that stars, asteroids, solar flares, gamma rays, etc., can wreak havoc on our planet. Luckily, most of these are very unlikely to kill us. Plait does a good job of explaining extremely difficult scientific subjects; however, even a good writer such as Plait can have trouble keeping these explanations from being a bit dry, thus the four stars instead of five. A Came across this book, and it fit in with my current obsession of post-apocalyptic stories. This non-fiction book looks at different ways that stars, asteroids, solar flares, gamma rays, etc., can wreak havoc on our planet. Luckily, most of these are very unlikely to kill us. Plait does a good job of explaining extremely difficult scientific subjects; however, even a good writer such as Plait can have trouble keeping these explanations from being a bit dry, thus the four stars instead of five. And I take some of the blame--physics doesn't come easily to me, even with Plait's layman's explanations. For the most part, though, the book moves along in an engaging and often humorous manner. The fictional stories at the beginning of each chapter really add some zest. The ideas this book discusses are absolutely fascinating and mind-boggling--the effects of a giant asteroid, the death of the sun, the death of the universe....I'd recommend this book to anyone (especially amateurs) interested in astronomy.
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  • Leah
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed this book. From the title, you can probably guess that this book appealed to my slightly fatalistic fascination with end-of-the-world, apocalyptic scenarios. I love pondering the unavoidable and the inevitable. And this book presents, of all the environmental, weather, and disease-related possibilities for humans to kill themselves, absolutely the most unavoidable events, with absolutely the most fatalistic perspective. Which is why I loved it.Each chapter in this bo I really enjoyed this book. From the title, you can probably guess that this book appealed to my slightly fatalistic fascination with end-of-the-world, apocalyptic scenarios. I love pondering the unavoidable and the inevitable. And this book presents, of all the environmental, weather, and disease-related possibilities for humans to kill themselves, absolutely the most unavoidable events, with absolutely the most fatalistic perspective. Which is why I loved it.Each chapter in this book is devoted to a different way that the planet could be destroyed from outer space. And the title of the book isn’t overreaching at all: note that it isn’t called “These are the Ways the World *Could* End,” or “the Ways the World *Might* End”: it’s definitely how the world will end. The only question is when.The first chapter is definitely the most gripping, since it’s the most likely to happen during the tenure of humans on Earth: asteroid and comet impacts. Not only is it extremely likely, it’s happened before: the asteroid that landed on Earth that killed the dinosaurs created a crater so large that you can really only see it from space. The really alarming part of asteroid/comet impact is that we could see it coming. The author points out that the comet Hale-Bopp, which passed us a few years ago, was twenty-five miles across, and, had it hit the Earth, “would have made the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs look like a wet firecracker.”The rest of the chapters cover such fun and comforting subjects as annihilation by sun malfunction, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, black holes, hostile aliens, and the eventual death of the entire universe. I really enjoyed the way each chapter begins with a little scenario that describes what an observer on Earth would see as the event unfolded. (And, if the human observer wouldn’t have lasted very long, the scenario carries on without the benefit of that human perspective.)The author, Philip Plait, is a witty and engaging writer who manages to make potentially dull astronomical details come to life. Some of my favorite moments in his way with language:“For those of you clinging to hope, there is some life that might survive this stage of the Earth’s distant future [the death of our Sun]. Footnote: My suggestion: let it go.”“The Sun is a mighty, vast, furiously seething cauldron of mass and energy. . . . Invisible forces writhe and wrestle for control on its surface, and when it loses its temper, the consequences can be dire and even lethal. That is what it means to be an ‘ordinary’ star.”“Sure, black holes can kill us, and in a variety of interesting and gruesome ways. . . . Remember: when you stare into the abyss, sometimes it stares back at you.”However, even his wit and facility with language couldn’t save me from getting bogged down in the black holes chapter. To be fair, black holes and quantum physics aren’t the easiest subjects for a lay reader to absorb in 75 pages or so. I know that he tried to keep things moving, but I ended up skimming a bit. The last chapter is the most staggering, in terms of its scale and its topic, and, besides the chapter on alien invasion, is the one that left the greatest impression on me. It’s the end of everything in the universe. Plait explains how, over the almost unimaginable eons of time to come (he tries to explain just how long this will take, but it really boggles the mind), slowly everything will end. After all the stars have burned themselves out, after the galaxy itself has evaporated through interstellar collisions, after even neutron stars have burned out, after matter itself has reached the end of its existence (remember the “half-life” of atomic particles?), even black holes will disintegrate. At that point the Universe will be “an ethereally thin slurry” of particles, “dark, randomized, silent.”Am I just crazy, or is it totally fascinating to consider this stuff? I guess I’m captivated by things that are completely out of my control. And with cosmological events, there’s not much to do but sit back and see what happens. Of course, by the time black holes manage to disintegrate, humans will be long gone, but still.Recommended if you love apocalyptic scenarios, astronomy, or a wittily written combination of the two!
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  • Book
    January 1, 1970
    Death From The Skies by Philip Plait, Ph.D.“Death From The Skies" is the entertaining book about how the universe is trying to kill you. Astronomer Dr. Philip Plait, using the latest in astronomical knowledge, takes us on exciting journey through our universe and enlightens us on the various cosmological hazards that are present. This 336-page book is composed of the following nine chapters: 1. Target Earth: Asteroid and Comet Impacts, 2. Sunburn, 3. The Stellar Fury of Supernovae, 4 Death From The Skies by Philip Plait, Ph.D.“Death From The Skies" is the entertaining book about how the universe is trying to kill you. Astronomer Dr. Philip Plait, using the latest in astronomical knowledge, takes us on exciting journey through our universe and enlightens us on the various cosmological hazards that are present. This 336-page book is composed of the following nine chapters: 1. Target Earth: Asteroid and Comet Impacts, 2. Sunburn, 3. The Stellar Fury of Supernovae, 4. Cosmic Blowtorches: Gamma-Ray Bursts, 5. The Bottomless Pits of Black Holes, 6. Alien Attack!, 7. The Death of the Sun, 8. Bright Lights, Big Galaxy, and 9. The End of Everything.Positives:1. A well-written, well-researched book that is accessible to the masses.2. A truly fun way to learn about astronomy and the dangers lurking in our universe.3. Engaging and humorous tone used.4. Great format. Each chapter begins with a vignette that is chapter appropriate. 5. Great use of illustrations.6. Thought-provoking quotes, "Nothing feeds engineering progress like fear". 7. So many fascinating facts that will "blow" you away. I learned so much from this book.8. The danger of asteroids, and an interesting discussion about the asteroid that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.9. An education on the sun. Magnetic fields, flares, solar winds, and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).10. The fascinating supernovas. The different ways stars blow up and the various features of it. 11. The various dangers resulting from novas, supernovas and hypernovas: X-rays, gamma rays and last but not least cosmic rays (CRs).12. The topical neutrinos and other forms of light.13. One of the great things about this book is the author's ability to tease the readers with how discoveries came about. As an example, the discovery of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). 14. Neutron stars the heavy enlightening facts (you see what I did there, oh never mind).15. An enlightening chapter about black holes. Absolutely mesmerizing.16. What would a book about astronomy be without the great contributions from the one and only Albert Einstein?17. A comprehensive look at gravity.18. For horror fans...the process of spaghettification. 19. Educational brief history of our solar system.20. Interesting look at the possibility of alien life. Are we alone?21. The life and inevitable death of our sun. Enlightening indeed. The author does a wonderful job of breaking the life cycle of the sun by stages.22. An education on galaxies. Our milky way and our neighbors.23. Supermassive black holes (SMBHs)...oh yeah and every large galaxy has one. 24. The end of everything by stages. 25. The author does a wonderful job of summarizing the wisdom provided in the book. A table was provided that gives the odds of potential damage and our ability to prevent them.26. An appendix about our nearby stars (less than 1,000 light-years) that will go supernova and all that entails. Negatives:1. The book should have had the illustrations in color. Astronomy is a topic that lends itself perfectly for it.2. No bibliography but the author does make light of other books in particular is inspired by the "Five Ages of the Universe" by Adams and Laughlin. In summary, who knew that astronomy could be so much fun? Dr. Plait has an engaging style that makes education fun. Astronomy is a fascinating topic and I learned quite a bit from of it. Science writing at its best don't hesitate to get this one. Highly recommended!
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    This is a fascinating, fun book to read. The author has kept the book light-hearted with an easy-going sense of humor. I majored in astronomy and physics in undergraduate school, yet I still learned some interesting things from this book. I learned that an asteroid collision is perhaps the most threatening form of astronomical catastrophe for us. And interestingly, an asteroid collision is the most avoidable catastrophe--though not by nuking the errant asteroid. A much better approach is suggest This is a fascinating, fun book to read. The author has kept the book light-hearted with an easy-going sense of humor. I majored in astronomy and physics in undergraduate school, yet I still learned some interesting things from this book. I learned that an asteroid collision is perhaps the most threatening form of astronomical catastrophe for us. And interestingly, an asteroid collision is the most avoidable catastrophe--though not by nuking the errant asteroid. A much better approach is suggested, one that doesn't have all the potential drawbacks of sending nuclear bombs to "push" the asteroid away. (No spoilers here.)Black hole collisions, supernovas, alien attacks are all described in this book--but none of these forms of catastrophes are likely. But they are described in detail by the author because, as he says, "they are fun!"I found his explanation for the 64-million-year cycle of biodiversity to be very interesting. The author explains this cycle in terms of the solar system's oscillations perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy. These oscillations occur with a similar period, although their amplitude is not very big. But the amplitude may be sufficient to subject ourselves cyclically to a source of cosmic rays in the direction of galactic motion. We are alternately hidden, and exposed to these cosmic rays, which might have an effect on biodiversity.I also found it interesting to contemplate the fate of the solar system, as our sun becomes a red giant--several billion years from now--and then collapses into a dwarf star, and finally fizzles out. At a certain point (a gazillion years in the future, perhaps 10^36 years to be more precise), protons themselves will decay, and mass itself will just "disappear". I highly recommend this book to anybody remotely interested in astronomy. It's a fun read!
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  • Judyta Szaciłło
    January 1, 1970
    Where do I start?The book is uneven. I loved it at the beginning, was annoyed and a little bored in the middle only to turn fascinated at the end. It is quite well written, accessible piece of popular science, I admit. But there are serious drawbacks that don't allow me to give this book more than three stars:1) Repetitiveness: reading about the effect of gamma-ray burst once is really enough. The seccond time is slightly annoying, the third and the fourth simply spoil th Where do I start?The book is uneven. I loved it at the beginning, was annoyed and a little bored in the middle only to turn fascinated at the end. It is quite well written, accessible piece of popular science, I admit. But there are serious drawbacks that don't allow me to give this book more than three stars:1) Repetitiveness: reading about the effect of gamma-ray burst once is really enough. The seccond time is slightly annoying, the third and the fourth simply spoil the pleasure.2) Pointless information, given only with the purpose to impress: what is the point of telling me that as many as 300 billion muons per square inch can hit the Earth "from a nearby gamma-ray burst"? What does that "nearby" mean? How on earth does this information contribute to my knowledge?3) Mistakes: as much as I believe that the author is a professional and offers a lot of interesting and reliable information, sometimes he can be really feckless in his metaphors, to the point of committing serious mistakes. He writes for example: "The Moon doesn't heat the Earth noticeably, so a supernova as bright as the Moon wouldn't either." Mr. Plait, really? Since when does the Moon produce any heat/light on its own? My impression is that the author simply believes that his readers are too stupid to notice anything, and as long as the metaphor is nice and shiny, the rest doesn't matter. These are only a couple of examples. My Kindle file is marked up all the way through the book. OK, there are not so many mistakes as to make the book unbearable, but there they are where they shouldn't be - in the book written by a scientist.Luckily, the last few chapters were such a feast for imagination that the book won my heart overall and I can recommend it with my conscience at ease.
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  • Haley
    January 1, 1970
    The book opens up with an average man named Mark, and proceeds to tell about his morning when an asteroid that ends all life on earth comes crashing down. Philip Plait presents some of the scariest end-of-the-world disasters, from supernovas, alien encounters, black holes, and even the expansion of the universe itself. Plait illustrates why outer space is not as remote as most think. Each chapter is a new scenario that looks into a different phenomenon, and explains how the planet would be affec The book opens up with an average man named Mark, and proceeds to tell about his morning when an asteroid that ends all life on earth comes crashing down. Philip Plait presents some of the scariest end-of-the-world disasters, from supernovas, alien encounters, black holes, and even the expansion of the universe itself. Plait illustrates why outer space is not as remote as most think. Each chapter is a new scenario that looks into a different phenomenon, and explains how the planet would be affected if the event actually occurred. I came across this book at a new book store in the outlets in April. I was searching for a science book, because I love science! I actually want to major in science when I go to college. My mom didn't want to buy it for me at first because she thought I'd just read a page and throw the book in my closet or something, so even when the book started to get a bit boring and over-factual, I kept reading just to prove her wrong. Overall, I loved the book! Each scenario was informative, but entertaining at the same time. Plait kept a good balance between the two, making this book a quick read.I would rate this book a 4 out of 5. I liked it very much because rather than sensationalizing the information, Plait examines the probability of these events happening in our lifetime, and whether or not there’s anything we can do to stop them. This book has a very entertaining tone, and would appeal to just about everyone interested in science. The concept of the world ending a different way throughout each chapter seems a little dreary, but Plait keeps it upbeat while still focusing on the science behind the disasters.
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  • Carol Brannigan
    January 1, 1970
    Wow- what a read and what a way to knock humanities hubris down by about 10³. This book underlays the fascinating ways that our universe is trying to kill us. It starts with asteroids on up to the end of the entire universe (yes- it is inevitable but not for a very very very long time). Dr. Plait keeps a very conversational tone throughout the book which along with his "dumbing" down but not so dumb scientific explanations keep this book very easy to read but also doesn't make you feel dumb. Wow- what a read and what a way to knock humanities hubris down by about 10³. This book underlays the fascinating ways that our universe is trying to kill us. It starts with asteroids on up to the end of the entire universe (yes- it is inevitable but not for a very very very long time). Dr. Plait keeps a very conversational tone throughout the book which along with his "dumbing" down but not so dumb scientific explanations keep this book very easy to read but also doesn't make you feel dumb.On top of this being about all the apocalyptic ways our world can end- there is a lot of good science explained quite simply (well about as simply as one can explain how a black hole works). I enjoyed learning about the wide (to significantly under-exaggerate things) area we call space and would recommend to anyone interested in science, astronomy or even the doom factor.
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  • Sesana
    January 1, 1970
    A very fascinating subject, presented very nicely. Each potential disaster is given its own chapter, starting with a short, fictionalized worst-case scenario, to show how bad this could really be. And then there's science, written in a very approachable and informative way. There's the usual suspect here, like asteroids and black holes, but I'm not sure I'd even heard of gamma ray bursts before reading this book, so that was especially cool to read. Oddly enough, despite being a book entirely ab A very fascinating subject, presented very nicely. Each potential disaster is given its own chapter, starting with a short, fictionalized worst-case scenario, to show how bad this could really be. And then there's science, written in a very approachable and informative way. There's the usual suspect here, like asteroids and black holes, but I'm not sure I'd even heard of gamma ray bursts before reading this book, so that was especially cool to read. Oddly enough, despite being a book entirely about ways we could horribly die, I found this book comforting instead of frightening. Plait is careful to emphasize that the odds are good we won't horribly die any moment from any of these.
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  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    I've always found the end of the world fascinating. So many cultures have put together their own ideas of how the world will end, from the Norse Ragnarök to the Christian apocalypse to the Hindu cycle of creation and destruction. We live in a world that was, for a long time, unpredictable to us and on many occasions seemed to be outwardly hostile. Our ancestors faced floods and earthquakes and disease, with no idea of where these things came from, why they happened or how to stop them. And so th I've always found the end of the world fascinating. So many cultures have put together their own ideas of how the world will end, from the Norse Ragnarök to the Christian apocalypse to the Hindu cycle of creation and destruction. We live in a world that was, for a long time, unpredictable to us and on many occasions seemed to be outwardly hostile. Our ancestors faced floods and earthquakes and disease, with no idea of where these things came from, why they happened or how to stop them. And so they made myths and stories to explain the dangerous world in which they lived. From that, they extrapolated - if the world is this dangerous now, how dangerous could it be if it really tried? And so came our myths of a world that not only succeeds in hurting us, but in wiping us out altogether.Even in the modern age we have our myths. Books, television, and movies all use the end of the world (or end of a world) to tell stories - usually about the resilience of mankind and our ability to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and rebuild human society, hopefully for the better. As good as this is for fiction, there are two problems when we try to apply these myths and stories to the real world: the world will end, one way or another, and no amount of heroics, cleverness or pluck will save us. Not in the long term, anyway.Science has accomplished what religion and fiction could not - it has seen the future and can make fairly accurate prophecies about how this world, and our civilization upon it, will die. Renowned astronomer Phil Plait is your prophet for this trip into all the ways the world will end....In this book, Plait looks at nine possibilities for the end of the world as we know it. In order, they are:Death by ImpactDeath from the SunDeath by SupernovaDeath by Gamma Ray BurstDeath by Black HoleDeath by AliensDeath of the SunDeath by Galactic CollisionDeath of the UniverseIn each chapter, Plait outlines the ways in which that specific event could injure or kill us, with as much science as he can comfortably put in. He explains, for example, why we can't just send Bruce Willis up to hit an incoming meteor with a nuke (it probably won't work) and why any black holes produced by the LHC won't do us any harm. He looks at how a supernova happens, what it is about a black hole that turns it into one of the deadliest weapons in the universe, and tries - very, very hard - to make the reader understand exactly how long "forever" is. (Hint: it's a lot longer than you think. Longer than that, even. Nope, keep going....)Each chapter outlines the processes by which we could experience the destruction of our civilization or, in a few cases, the planet itself. He looks at the scientific foundations of these events, explaining in detail what it is about the sun, for example, that makes it a cauldron of chaos and torment, or why we really, really don't want to get even a smallish black hole anywhere near the planet. And I have to say, of all the unlikely ways we could be toasted, gamma ray bursts are my favorite - a deadly beam of energy from thousands of light-years away, cooking the planet all the way down through the crust and utterly devastating the planet's ecosystem so as to kill off anyone who was lucky enough to be on the other side of the world. I mean, wow. And there'd be no warning, either. By the time we knew what was happening, it'd be too late. So that chapter (with a line paying homage to Douglas Adams, even) is just mind-boggling.Probably my favorite chapter, though, is the one about supernovas, mainly because his careful, step-by-step description of exactly how a supernova occurs made me think, "What I wouldn't give to see that in person," disregarding the fact that a) the best parts would happen way too fast for me to observe and b) it would vaporize me. Still, it's a beautiful and terrifying chain reaction, which Plait describes in fantastic detail. The other chapter that evoked the same reaction was the one on the end of the universe. Despite timelines for which the word "vast" is terribly inadequate, Plait tells us what science knows about how the universe will end - the ever-increasing expansion of spacetime, the eventual death of the stars, evaporation of galaxies, the reign of the black holes and the slow, careful deaths which even they face. It all ends in darkness, all matter gone into a few stubborn subatomic particles and the eventual collapse of the very fabric of space and time.And as bleak and miserable is the future looks, I still thought, "I really want to see that." So if I can figure out how to live one googol years (that'd be a one with one hundred zeros after it [1:]) and not have my very atoms decay into nothingness, then I'll be able to... um... be really, really bored, probably. Since after that, there's absolutely - literally - nothing to do. Until the universe experiences vacuum collapse, or a brane collision, possibly hitting the reset button on the cosmos and we get to do it all over again....Most of what's in the book isn't new to me, but that's probably because I grew up reading Cosmos, and I follow countless science TV shows, podcasts and blogs (including Plait's own Bad Astronomy blog, which is well worth keeping up with, as well as his regular appearances on SETI's podcast, Are We Alone? and occasional guest appearances on The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe - both of which make for excellent listening). For people new to astronomy, though, this will be a rather dense learning experience - and reading it will be time well spent.In addition to its user-friendly style, I really like the way it's arranged - from small-scale (relatively) to large, with "Things that are absolutely certain to happen" at the beginning and end, and with "things that probably won't happen" in the middle. And my favorite aspect of this book is that each chapter begins with a short vignette describing that particular end of the world, from the perspective of someone watching it happen. It's not something you often see in books of this nature, and I'm really glad that Plait decided to put it in there. It makes it a little less academic and abstract and more real.For all its death and destruction, the book isn't really a downer. For one thing, while things like asteroid impacts and the death of the sun are inevitable, they don't have to be fatal, and Plait describes a few ways in which - in theory - we (or our distant, distant descendants) might be able to avert or at least mitigate these catastrophes. It's not easy, of course, but saving the world never is.It's mainly a marvel at the forces that surround us in the universe. It's easy to forget, looking up at the sky from our brief, limited scale, that the universe isn't just some pretty lights drifting about in empty blackness. Things are exploding and dying, burning and freezing, moving quickly and slowly - the cosmos is replete with activity and danger. Most of the universe isn't just uninhabitable, it's actively hostile to life as we know it. And yet, without the black holes, the supernovas and the galactic collisions, without massive meteor impacts and breakaway comets, solar flares and deadly radiation - without all that, life probably wouldn't exist at all. So read this book, and take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to be here at all, all things considered....[1:] 10 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000
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  • Scot Parker
    January 1, 1970
    This was a refreshing addition to the astronomy popular science genre. Plait's writing is smooth and engaging, and he presents his topics in a clear, fascinating, and accessible manner.The theme of this book, obviously, is death from the skies, and it covers a number of different cosmic events that could result in our deaths, or even in the extinction of the human race as a whole. Within this framework, you'll learn about the Big Bang, about the life cycle of stars, about the differe This was a refreshing addition to the astronomy popular science genre. Plait's writing is smooth and engaging, and he presents his topics in a clear, fascinating, and accessible manner.The theme of this book, obviously, is death from the skies, and it covers a number of different cosmic events that could result in our deaths, or even in the extinction of the human race as a whole. Within this framework, you'll learn about the Big Bang, about the life cycle of stars, about the difference between cosmic and electromagnetic rays, about black holes, supernova, the history of the universe, and its future. You'll get a sense of the spatial scale of the universe and you'll realize just how unknowable is the timescale of the death of the universe. You'll even get a sense of a bit of special relativity and of (even smaller bits of) general relativity, all as part of Plait's explanation of such cosmic phenomena as supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, black holes, quasars, galactic collisions, and more.If astronomy tickles your fancy and you're not a Ph.D. astronomer yourself (or even if you are), you will probably find this to be a delightful book. Give it a read!
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  • Briar Ripley
    January 1, 1970
    This was a fun read for me as a not-especially-sciencey layperson with only a very basic education in astronomy; I brushed up on some concepts I'd already encountered, and learned about a few new ones. The prose here is often a little clunky and repetitive, and the writing style often cheesy, but then, this isn't supposed to be great literature-- it's meant to educate while entertaining, and it succeeds admirably in that. Plait explains everything in a playful, lucid, accessible manner, and his This was a fun read for me as a not-especially-sciencey layperson with only a very basic education in astronomy; I brushed up on some concepts I'd already encountered, and learned about a few new ones. The prose here is often a little clunky and repetitive, and the writing style often cheesy, but then, this isn't supposed to be great literature-- it's meant to educate while entertaining, and it succeeds admirably in that. Plait explains everything in a playful, lucid, accessible manner, and his excitement about his subject shows clear on every page. Since this was published in 2008, over ten years ago (!), some of the more cutting edge and speculative material might be dated by now, but overall I would recommend DEATH FROM THE SKIES! to anyone with a morbid streak who has an interest in astronomy but doesn't know very much about it yet (and has a high tolerance for dad jokes, imagined scenarios of catastrophe, and repetitive descriptions). The chapter on black holes was especially good-- I feel like I finally *sort of* understand how black holes work, and Plait's description of a hypothetical astronaut's death by black hole was lurid and gross in the best possible way (yeah, I know, I'm a ghoul).
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  • Adam Cornish
    January 1, 1970
    This is a fantastic introduction to astrophysics and cosmology, two topics of which I know very little. Phil Plait gives a great sense of impending doom at the beginning of each chapter by describing the horrible ways that our world can end, then smoothly transitions into the causes of that potential doomsday, finally allaying fears by describing how probable/improbably the event actually is.I definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to learn just a bit more about our universe a This is a fantastic introduction to astrophysics and cosmology, two topics of which I know very little. Phil Plait gives a great sense of impending doom at the beginning of each chapter by describing the horrible ways that our world can end, then smoothly transitions into the causes of that potential doomsday, finally allaying fears by describing how probable/improbably the event actually is.I definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to learn just a bit more about our universe and the awesome forces that shape our very existence.
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  • Edward Taylor
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a fun romp through all of the cosmic disasters that could bring about doomsday. Some of these topics are gamma-ray bursts and solar storms. As someone who visits nutty websites all of the time, I find the author's writing to be pertinent to the concerns of many people. This book also teaches critical thinking and a good deal of general material in astronomy. This book is humorous and it is fascinating. I highly recommend it.
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  • D
    January 1, 1970
    Death from the Skies!'s nine chapters all follow the same pattern: a brief, moderately sensationalized depiction of an astronomical disaster followed by a somewhat more sober discussion of the event, with an emphasis on how likely and/or subject to mitigation it is. The book more-or-less progresses from near-term potential events (like an meteor collision) to long-term inevitabilities (the eventual death of the sun, and way beyond). Plait's enthusiasm is palpable throughout -- he just loves this stuff. Death from the Skies!'s nine chapters all follow the same pattern: a brief, moderately sensationalized depiction of an astronomical disaster followed by a somewhat more sober discussion of the event, with an emphasis on how likely and/or subject to mitigation it is. The book more-or-less progresses from near-term potential events (like an meteor collision) to long-term inevitabilities (the eventual death of the sun, and way beyond). Plait's enthusiasm is palpable throughout -- he just loves this stuff.I've read a lot of books that covered similar topics, but if you don't read new ones (this one was published in 2008), things tend to change. For instance, we used to think that our sun was in the class of stars that could go nova, inexplicably increasing in brightness for a period of hours or days -- possibly long enough to fry the Earth to a crisp. In the current understanding, stars like ours don't go nova; only hydrogen-gorging white dwarfs do (whew!). On the other hand, I'm a little more scared of big meteors than I used to be; turns out blowing them up with nukes probably doesn't work at all, and even deflecting them is likely to be much harder than I thought. So while Plait's book covered a lot of ground familiar to me, there were usually new wrinkles; I learned plenty.One reasonable quibble I have is that Plait is a little glib about scale. Only in the chapter on the death of the universe does he rely on exponential notation, and then only because the numbers are so unimaginably huge. Throughout most of the book he uses million and billion in adjoining sentences. Even these numbers are so beyond human scale that I think they're difficult to keep hold of; I think our brains tend to render them as "really big" and "really big (but bigger)" -- it's hard (for me anyway) to keep in mind that a billion is a thousand million and that a trillion is a thousand thousand million. It's geeky, but I kind of wish he'd used exponential notation throughout.My unreasonable quibble with the book illustrates why I'd make a spectacularly lousy scientist, particularly in the chapter on "Deep Time" and the end of the universe. I can accept that we can make assertions about the age of the universe and what happened to bring us to the current point -- if we look at an object that's 6 billion light years away, we're seeing it as it was 6 billion years ago unless pretty much everything we think we know about physics is wrong. So we can learn about state of the universe 6 billion years ago by direct observation, and extrapolate backward.But foretelling the end of the universe involves quantities of time that literally, I think, beggar the imagination. As Plait acknowledges, you can't use metaphors -- you can't say, for instance, that the 14-ish billion years age of the universe to date is an eyeblink compared to Deep Time, because an eyeblink is way, way, way, too long. It's certainly scientifically reasonable to extrapolate from our observations of the universe now. But for us to presume we really know what's going to happen on those scales strikes my unscientific, intuitive mind as enormous hubris. Suppose for a second that there's some big change in the universe that happens once every 20 billion years. It hasn't happened once yet, but in the Deep Time scale, it would happen billions upon billions upon billions of times. That's not a scientific notion -- I certainly can't propose a mechanism for some fundamental shift in the universe, or draw up equations to describe whatever it might be. But what I can observe is that throughout recorded history, when we think we have things pretty much figured out, something upsets the apple cart and we discover it's way more complicated than we thought. And, from the oldest historical records to just last week (with news story about experimental results failing to match the predictions of string theory), the strangification of the universe is happening faster and faster.So while I don't know when, how, or why (although pseudo-scientifically, dark matter still seems to be a bit of a wild card), I'd (intuitively, unscientifically) bet that long before the universe gets to the Deep Time that Plait describes, our understanding of it will significantly change. Probably before the sun swells to a red giant, or within my lifetime, or possibly even next week. And that's what I love -- the notion that despite our best efforts, the universe will always reveal complexities that transcend our understanding. We need something even weirder than string theory? Bring it on!My irrationality aside, I liked Plait's book a lot. Certainly found it thought-provoking.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    I'll be honest with you -- I like pop science books, magazines and blogs even when I know the subject. (Read: they are about astronomy*.) Part of it is reading to see how others explain a subject, which helps me learn things. Part of it is that the narrative for explaining the science to others is different than the research narrative -- while I could easily find out plenty on stellar evolution of a solar-type star -- how the temperature and size and mass changes -- and climactic models of the E I'll be honest with you -- I like pop science books, magazines and blogs even when I know the subject. (Read: they are about astronomy*.) Part of it is reading to see how others explain a subject, which helps me learn things. Part of it is that the narrative for explaining the science to others is different than the research narrative -- while I could easily find out plenty on stellar evolution of a solar-type star -- how the temperature and size and mass changes -- and climactic models of the Earth with increased stellar flux and work out 'what happens to the Earth as the Sun ages', most pop science books will focus on that if they talk about the Sun. Plus, it makes my job easier when I brush back my astronomer headband and put on my skiffy-writer hat. Death from the Skies! (yes, the exclamation point is in there) is basically a book written by an astronomer about all the ways that astronomy can kill us. It ranges from things most people know about (asteroids, supernovae), more obscure things (gamma-ray bursts, mini black-holes, collapse of the vacuum), to things that are inevitable but not going to happen in our lifetimes (death of the Sun, collision of the Milky Way with Andromeda, the fate of the Universe). Dr. Plait spells out exactly what bad effects this will have on our poor Earth -- gleefully, even -- but he's careful to note exactly how likely it is. (Though he does note things like 'sun turns into red giant' are certain, but that none of us will be killed by this, unless we are planning on living for billions of years.) I did have some quibbles with the science in the Death of the Sun chapter. Mostly about outer planets' satellites**. Dr. Plait notes that as the Sun turns into a red giant, it will be getting a lot brighter***, and that this will spell bad news for a lot of things, including the many moons of the outer solar system. See, most of the jovian planets' moons are made of an ice/rock mix that does fine as long as things stay below freezing, but would turn into the Solar System's Biggest Comet if heated up†. My quibble is that Dr. Plait states they will be completely vaporized, while I note that many of them have differentiated -- much like how the Earth has a rocky crust and mantle and a nickel-iron core††, some of these moons have ice mantles and rock cores. While a moon that's well-mixed might carry off the rock as the water ice vaporizes, a differentiated moon might keep the rocky core intact even with the surface boiled off. I know, pick, pick, pick. This is a minor detail in one chapter, though. Overall, I really liked this book. (Also, the cover for the softcover edition is awesome.) It also gave me some fun ideas about stuff to write fiction about, and offered a few new analogies to use when teaching and answering questions. (I'll add it to 'What If the Moon Didn't Exist Voyages to Earths That Might Have Been' on my list of 'sources to answer odd questions'.) ---* Except deep cosmology, relativity and black holes, for which I still consider myself an rather educated layperson on. Mostly because reading the 'Ask an Astronomer' questions on those make me cringe. I'm competent enough to know the basics, and to teach them, but the devil's in the details. ** Since 'stuff that orbits other planets' is kind of my field. *** And bigger -- the red-giant Sun from Earth would be the size of a dinner plate held at arm's length, and the daytime temperature would be enough to melt the Earth's crust, and the only reason the Earth wouldn't be engulfed by the Sun is that the Sun is shedding mass like someone on one of those reality weight-loss shows my little brother likes, and this pushes the Earth out to an orbit that is merely 'rock-meltingly hot' rather than 'inside the Sun'. † I actually recall some papers that noticed water vapor orbiting around red giants, which the authors attribute to something like our Solar System's Kuiper Belt (aka Pluto and friends) getting their surfaces boiled off. †† Yes, I can explain How the Heck We Know That.
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  • Nicholas
    January 1, 1970
    If you aren't reading Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog over at Discover magazine, you should be. His writing is an awesome example of how real science can be just as awe-inspiring, cool and interesting as the "science" that underlays our most exciting and captivating science fiction stories.Are you a fan of disaster movies? Then, Death from the Skies is for you. In this short volume, Plait uncovers the real science behind a host of truly dreadful end of the world scenarios from asteroid impact If you aren't reading Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog over at Discover magazine, you should be. His writing is an awesome example of how real science can be just as awe-inspiring, cool and interesting as the "science" that underlays our most exciting and captivating science fiction stories.Are you a fan of disaster movies? Then, Death from the Skies is for you. In this short volume, Plait uncovers the real science behind a host of truly dreadful end of the world scenarios from asteroid impacts to the eventual, but certain, heat death of the universe, putting each in cosmic perspective in terms of the scope of the catastrophe and its likelihood of occurrence. What makes this exploration so much fun is Plait's own enthusiasm for the subject. He manages to strike a delicate balance between his appreciation for the creativity of science fiction and the scientific rigors of his profession (Plait is a PhD in Astronomy and a well known skeptic and debunker of all things astronomically ridiculous) which prevents Death from the Skies from becoming either too sensationalist or statistically boring and mundane. The result: we have very, very little to personally fear from any of the disasters outlined in the book. The genius is that while Plait puts the odds in context (some of which are so small they really may as well be zero), he still writes in such a way that makes the discussion of the forces and power involved in these events exciting and fascinating.Each chapter opens with a creative vignette that gives a human perspective to the discussion of the disaster to follow, which gets your survival instincts and adrenaline thrumming. Plait paints a realistic scenario for the playing out of the event and its impact on human life, giving in a bit to theater, but in an enjoyable way that manages to peak your interest for the scientific discussion to follow. The sheer magnitude of these disasters defies the imagination and Plait does an admirable job of providing some jaw-dropping statistics in ways that don't make your eyes glaze over - mostly because he puts them in every day context by providing some appropriate analogies that still leave you gazing at the wall for a good couple minutes as you try and wrap your mind around it. The overall feeling you get after reading Death from the Skies is one of absolute wonder. The universe is an incredibly hostile place for beings as sensitive and delicate as we are and Plait paints a devastatingly realistic picture of how tenuous life's grasp on Earth really is, but he balances it well by pointing out that if the universe weren't so, we probably wouldn't be here anyway. A well-known saying in astronomy is that we were literally born from the death of stars, which forged the heavier elements that come together to form life, and Plait makes active use of this reference throughout his work, extending the description to form an interconnected web that creates a multibillion year cycle of creation and destruction that happened precisely to create and maintain life on our little planet. He also does a magnificent job of putting time into perspective, noting that though our history may seem "long" to us, it is a literally insignificant drop in the bucket compared to the life of the Earth itself, which is also just a drop in the galactic bucket, which is in turn....you get what I mean. Plait also manages to hold on, in spite of such vast proportions and epic time scales, to the human perspective, relating everything back to us; what a supernova half the galaxy away means to us, what the supermassive black hole lurking at the heart of our galaxy means to us and so on. Death from the Skies is a fun read that will put the universe and our place in it in perspective, while at the same time teaching you rock solid astronomy and physics, probably without you being even aware of it.
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  • Jamie
    January 1, 1970
    The full title here is Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End, and in it astrophysicist (or something along those lines) Phillip Plait takes on the bombastic topic of global annihilation. Specifically, he looks at all the ways Earth could destroyed by threats from outer space, dedicating a chapter to each threat. Topics include being hit by an asteroid (or meteor or meteorite or whatever it would be called at that point), blasted by a too-close supernova, having our electri The full title here is Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End, and in it astrophysicist (or something along those lines) Phillip Plait takes on the bombastic topic of global annihilation. Specifically, he looks at all the ways Earth could destroyed by threats from outer space, dedicating a chapter to each threat. Topics include being hit by an asteroid (or meteor or meteorite or whatever it would be called at that point), blasted by a too-close supernova, having our electrical systems fried by a particularly obnoxious solar flare, being immolated when our dying sun gives out a final cosmic belch, being yanked down into a meandering black hole, and perhaps most strangely the eventual heat death of the entire universe.After presenting each apocalyptic scenario in the form of a small vignette, Plait takes you through the hard science associated with such things, usually accompanied by generous use of scientific notation in an attempt at giving you a proper sense of scale. So you learn about the magnetic fields of the sun and Earth and how those could be screwed up in the event of a huge solar flare, for example, or what Einstein's theories have to say about the event horizon of a black hole. The author even poses some crazy solutions to problems that straddle the line between science fiction and fact, like the idea of millennium-long endeavors to move Earth to a more distant orbit to save it from an expanding sun. It's all really interesting for a nerd like me, and Plait does a pretty good job of keeping it high level and sensational enough so that you don't have to solve any equations. It's not necessarily light reading, but anybody with a decent high school science education and some imagination can follow along well enough to get the point.You might think that this all serves to play on some grotesque fascination with planet-wide (or solar system-wide or galaxy-wide, or even universe-wide) death and destruction. There's some of that, particularly in the chapters on asteroid collisions and monster solar flares, both of which HAVE happened and WILL happen again . But those two events aside, Plait quickly moves on to events that are next to impossible (e.g., being zapped by a nearby gamma ray burst) or guaranteed to happen only after a few billion more years (e.g., our sun running out of fuel). It's on topics like these that Plait just shrugs his shoulders and says "Yeah, but what the hell it's fun to conjecture, so let's just go for it."And he's right --it IS fun to move the decimal point a few places in our probability estimates or fast forward the clock by trillions of years. Mental problems aside, you're not going to lie awake at night wondering if you're going to fall into the supermassive black hole in the middle of the Milky Way, but Plait is a good enough popular science writer to make it fascinating to hear about what would happen if you did.
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  • Stephen
    January 1, 1970
    By anyone's standards, 2011 was a banner year for disasters, with Earth's ful inventory of catastrophes on display. Flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, hurricanes, and tornadoes filled newspaper headlines all year. In the wake of all this, some might be tempted to look to the heavens for relief -- to the placid, twinkling stars above. Too bad that twinkling is probably a gamma-ray burst on its way to vaporize you.The perils of the heavens are the subject of Phil Plait By anyone's standards, 2011 was a banner year for disasters, with Earth's ful inventory of catastrophes on display. Flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, hurricanes, and tornadoes filled newspaper headlines all year. In the wake of all this, some might be tempted to look to the heavens for relief -- to the placid, twinkling stars above. Too bad that twinkling is probably a gamma-ray burst on its way to vaporize you.The perils of the heavens are the subject of Phil Plait's second work, Death from the Skies, and in it he lists nine particular ways the universe might be trying to kill us, from relatively mild extinction-level asteroid impacts to the collisions of galaxies. Although exposure to most of these sounds like nothing to laugh about, Plait's tone remains light throughout the book, until he discusses the total heat death of the universe. Part of the reason for Plait's levity is that these are not serious concerns; considering the size of the cosmos and the timescale at which things happen, the chances of human beings in their present form being damaged by the collision of the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy, or gobbled up by the Sun's swollen expansion, are virtually nonexistent. And even if these things were a serious concern, there's nothing we can do to prevent them -- so why worry? Asteroid impact and solar storms are likely to affect us, but their damage can be mitigated -- and even avoided.While this is my first time reading Plait, I've long been a fan of him thanks to his blog (Bad Astronomy) and his frequent appearances on shows like Star Talk and the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Plait is as entertaining an author as he is an in-person guest, almost chatting with the reader and making frequent jokes. He's as sneaky as he is funny: while people may be drawn in by the book's colorful cover (and title) and engaged by his literary charisma, Death from the Skies! isn't superficial in the least. Along the way, Plait instructs readers in astronomy and cosmology. The stars are the source of many of these world-ending scenarios, and one can't help but be impressed by the scale of their lives and their overwhelming importance to life as we know it. The stars don't simply illuminate the skies and heat the planets in orbit about them; throughout their lives and especially in their death throes, they create the stuff of life. The very atoms that make up Earth have been forged in the heart of supernovas.Death from the Skies! is one of the best science books I've read in a long time; anyone with an interest in the night-time sky should enjoy it. Expect to see his debut book (Bad Astronomy) read here at some point, because Plait is a blast.
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  • Dan
    January 1, 1970
    My most recent read was from astronomer Phil Plait, who writes the Bad Astronomy blog over at Slate. "Death from the Skies" chronicles all of the possible ways that our planet, and life as we know it, could be destroyed by non-terrestrial natural events. This is definitely not light reading nor does it always perk you up, but it is funny, highly informative, and humbling. Plait's description of our solar system, galaxy, and universe help you to appreciate our position in the cosmos. But how do w My most recent read was from astronomer Phil Plait, who writes the Bad Astronomy blog over at Slate. "Death from the Skies" chronicles all of the possible ways that our planet, and life as we know it, could be destroyed by non-terrestrial natural events. This is definitely not light reading nor does it always perk you up, but it is funny, highly informative, and humbling. Plait's description of our solar system, galaxy, and universe help you to appreciate our position in the cosmos. But how do we survive? Here's how.Plait covers a wide range of deadly outer space culprits in an attempt to show you just how powerful nature is. The list includes: gamma ray bursts from black holes, solar flares/coronal mass ejections, asteroid impact, comet impact, galactic collision (that's a slow death), and many others. Each chapter starts with a fun little 2-3 page story of humans observing these things from Earth, and they can be a bit scary. After that, the writing is filled with excellent science writing mixed with Plait's clever humor. You come away from this book with far more knowledge of nature than just what can kill us. Plait does an excellent job of explaining how so many different natural forces work, from gravity to chemistry to geology to quantum mechanics.Here's the good news: most of these things are not going to kill us. The chances of gamma ray bursts or galactic collisions happening are slim. However, the two chapters that I enjoyed the most are actually the chapters the tell the story of our two most likely killers: solar radiation and asteroid/comet impacts.Plait makes a great case near the end to increase funding towards protecting our planet against solar radiation and impacts from extra-terrestrial bodies like comets and asteroids. There are some great ideas, scientists, and programs out there that just need more funding to get their plans off the ground. A coronal mass ejection could wipe out our power grid and send us plunging into medieval times. It could even damage our ozone layer, which leads to huge long-term problems. And we all know what an asteroid or comet impact could do. The dinosaurs know all about that. But we can prevent these, the most likely problems, if we just work harder at it.This was a fun, engaging read that I recommend to folks who enjoy a good science book, especially those of you who enjoy astronomy.
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  • Brian Hodges
    January 1, 1970
    This is pop-science at its most fun. What better way to learn about the world of astronomy than by learning about all the ways the Universe might kill all life on Earth? "Death From the Skies" uses this setup as the jumping off point to teach the reader all about black holes, the Big Bang, gamma ray bursts, the life cycle of stars and the eventual end of the Universe.Far from being a treastise of doom and gloom, or worse, a sensationalist tabloid piece designed to ignite hysteria and This is pop-science at its most fun. What better way to learn about the world of astronomy than by learning about all the ways the Universe might kill all life on Earth? "Death From the Skies" uses this setup as the jumping off point to teach the reader all about black holes, the Big Bang, gamma ray bursts, the life cycle of stars and the eventual end of the Universe.Far from being a treastise of doom and gloom, or worse, a sensationalist tabloid piece designed to ignite hysteria and sell books based on fear, the author (Phil Plait of the popular Bad Astronomy blog) stays grounded in science and reality... while still indulging the natural tendency in all of us to speculate on the "what ifs" of worst-case scenarios.Each chapter begins with a Hollywood-like setup, where Plait narrates the mass-extinction event du jour with Armageddon-like seriousness mixed with what almost seems like gleeful excitement at the prospect of going down in this fashion. Then, once he's got you pooping in your britches, he dials it back a notch and explains the real science and the real ODDS behind such an event actually happening in our lifetime... or the lifetime of humanity for that matter. Even in the potentially throwaway-silly chapter that deals with alien attacks, he keeps it grounded in the science of, "how MIGHT an alien civilization go about attacking us." In the end what you come away with is a reinforced appreciation for how amazing, how intricate, how VAST our universe (and even our tiny place in it) really is. You might even come away learning new things about topics you thought you'd already learned back in ninth grade science.Come to think of it, this book could actually make a great supplemental text book for the properly motivated teacher. Rather than learning about things in the abstract, how much better to put a tangible application upon various science concepts... a "how does this affect ME?" mentality. Well, in this book, the answer and motivator is quite simple: "It could KILL YOU."
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  • Dylan Manfredi
    January 1, 1970
    Death from the skies is a amazing book written by one of my favorite astronomers, Phillip Plait. The way he writes is great. He often adds humor after generally scary facts really lightens the mood. Let me elaborate on "scary facts". Depending on the kind of person you are you might not find some of this things that scary. Form example if you are like me, someone who worries about the smallest details or things that are well out of my control then reading this book might not be the best idea, or Death from the skies is a amazing book written by one of my favorite astronomers, Phillip Plait. The way he writes is great. He often adds humor after generally scary facts really lightens the mood. Let me elaborate on "scary facts". Depending on the kind of person you are you might not find some of this things that scary. Form example if you are like me, someone who worries about the smallest details or things that are well out of my control then reading this book might not be the best idea, or maybe your the kind of person who really doesn't worry about these kinds of things because why does it matter to me? But that being said you have to realize the odds of any the disasters described in this book happening are incredibly low, like 1 out of 1,000,000 small to 1 out of 1,000,000,000,000. The 1 out of a trillion stat is for the odds of dying via blackhole. So incase you ever wondered about that kind of thing I recommend you read the book so you know why its 1 out of a trillion. But of course theres more than that, asteroid impact is a must in any world ending scenarios along with alien invasion, supernova, gamma rays, and even the death of the universe!(and more!) Phill does a great job at describing the events in a terrifying but logical manner that anyone could understand. I would totally recommend this book to anyone who likes astronomy and even if astronomy isnt your strong suit phill dose a phenomenal job at describing the sciences behind everything. Just another reason to read the book. So in summary Death From the Skies is a great book written by a great author who I recommend 100%.
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  • Andy
    January 1, 1970
    Luckily, my favorite astronomer continues to not let me down. Phillip Plait is a renowned skeptic (former president of the JREF) and astronomy blogger who takes on with much gusto (and success) the mission of bringing science education to as wide an audience as possible.In that spirit, this book is aimed at the layperson. Not even knowledge of scientific notation (exponential) is presupposed. It also has the whole doom-and-gloom appeal, which serves as a pretty good hook, but when it Luckily, my favorite astronomer continues to not let me down. Phillip Plait is a renowned skeptic (former president of the JREF) and astronomy blogger who takes on with much gusto (and success) the mission of bringing science education to as wide an audience as possible.In that spirit, this book is aimed at the layperson. Not even knowledge of scientific notation (exponential) is presupposed. It also has the whole doom-and-gloom appeal, which serves as a pretty good hook, but when it comes down to it, it isn't the presence of any real danger that makes Phil's approach great - it's the information presented along the way. From the big bang to 10^92 years in the future, the lifespan and the death of normal stars, galaxies, quasars, black holes, planets, and other cosmological bodies are described in detail. Even though the majority of these events are extremely unlikely to threaten us in the near future (there's a table in the back), the scale of the destruction and energy are so completely, well, astronomical, that it's captivating in the extreme. Phil's passion for the cosmos and the ways in which cosmic events dwarf even the most overwhelming circumstances here on Earth is contagious. By the end of the book, I found myself saddened to think of the universe as a whole dying... I know, it's not as if anyone will be here to see it, but it had become something like an old friend by that point. :)Finally, this is a pretty quick read. Not a huge undertaking as far as books go - nothing to lose by checking this one out.
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  • Celeste
    January 1, 1970
    Entertaining refresher course on astronomy, cosmology, and even a bit of earth science. The author presents the many ways that the universe could wipe us out (or at least severely inconvenience us): from asteroid strikes, solar flares, GRBs, nearby supernovae and wandering black holes to the ultimate death of the sun, galaxy, and the entire universe. I've been reading Phil Plait's "Bad Astronomy" blog for years. I think I first became a fan after reading his dissection of the horrible science in Entertaining refresher course on astronomy, cosmology, and even a bit of earth science. The author presents the many ways that the universe could wipe us out (or at least severely inconvenience us): from asteroid strikes, solar flares, GRBs, nearby supernovae and wandering black holes to the ultimate death of the sun, galaxy, and the entire universe. I've been reading Phil Plait's "Bad Astronomy" blog for years. I think I first became a fan after reading his dissection of the horrible science in Michael Bay's crapfest, Armageddon. So I figured it was time to send some royalties his way to show my appreciation. There wasn't a whole lot in here that I didn't already know about, but the section on Gamma-Ray Bursts I found the most interesting as that was one phenomenon I didn't thoroughly understand before. I now feel assured that the likelihood of Earth getting hit by a GRB is pretty low, and not something I should worry about.I did find the sometimes snarky and off-topic footnotes a little aggravating at times, and feel that he was trying a little hard to be cute. But the science wasn't dumbed down and the descriptions were vivid and intuitive. All in all, a good pop-sci book that hopefully will dispel some "end of the world is nigh!" fears. Although the most paranoid people probably won't seek out a book like this as they seem to really enjoy living in their states of perpetual panic.
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  • Jacob
    January 1, 1970
    I really like Phil Plait. His blog (Bad Astronomy on Slate.com) is enlightening, and from what I've seen on Youtube, he's an entertaining speaker. We need more people who can take science to the non-scientists in a relatable way, and Dr. P is at the forefront.Having said that, the book is okay. I definitely learned some new things, especially about gamma ray bursts, cosmic rays, and the heat death of the universe. There's a lot in here that isn't really new, though. If you've read or I really like Phil Plait. His blog (Bad Astronomy on Slate.com) is enlightening, and from what I've seen on Youtube, he's an entertaining speaker. We need more people who can take science to the non-scientists in a relatable way, and Dr. P is at the forefront.Having said that, the book is okay. I definitely learned some new things, especially about gamma ray bursts, cosmic rays, and the heat death of the universe. There's a lot in here that isn't really new, though. If you've read or watched Cosmos or A Brief History of Time, then this will be a lot of review.From a writing perspective, there were two things that caught my eye. He says "literally" a lot, though to his credit he uses it accurately (never does he mean "figuratively"), and some of the metaphors are a little vague. Those seem to be the defining trait of good science writing -- if a scientist can cut through the technical language and say "It's a bit like a coiled spring, ready to snap" (which is technically a simile, I suppose) then the heavy science can become accessible. If not, then it's a lost cause. Sometimes Dr. P gets this right, and sometimes not.Still, though, read the book. Plait has an excellent sense of humor and boils a lot of complicated science down to a readable level. His enthusiasm for science is great (he's like a well-educated 12-year-old) and what's more fun than imagining all the terrible ways the universe can kill us?If you need me, I'll be under the bed.
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  • Evanston Public Library
    January 1, 1970
    There's pulp fiction and pulp science fiction, but is there a genre called pulp science nonfiction? If there is, Plait's book certainly qualifies. With a lurid cover in eye-catching, fiery orange (that's the burning asteroid hurtling toward Earth), and a title that screams terror and destruction, this lively book will take you on a cheery tour of the many ways the universe is out to get us. Perhaps a meteor will barrel down to obliterate us. A nearby star going supernova would engulf the solar s There's pulp fiction and pulp science fiction, but is there a genre called pulp science nonfiction? If there is, Plait's book certainly qualifies. With a lurid cover in eye-catching, fiery orange (that's the burning asteroid hurtling toward Earth), and a title that screams terror and destruction, this lively book will take you on a cheery tour of the many ways the universe is out to get us. Perhaps a meteor will barrel down to obliterate us. A nearby star going supernova would engulf the solar system, but at least we'd have our fellow planets as companions during the apocalypse. If we survive long enough, our sun will eventually fizzle out just as T. S. Eliot predicted in his poem "The Hollow Men" ("This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper."). The list goes on--black holes, alien attack, gamma ray bursts, and more--Plait delights in telling us the gruesome details of how each scenario would play out. What happens on Earth for the most part is the stuff of a Will Smith Hollywood blockbuster. We learn the science behind the various phenomena, and what, if any, heroic actions we Earthlings can take to avert our common fate. If you need something really, really big to worry about (bigger than the economy), enjoy good science writing crafted to engage the non-scientist, and simply like the idea that all of us are in this together (the universe is an equal-opportunity destroyer), this is the book for you. (Barbara L., Reader's Services)
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  • Andrew
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting book, it looks as if Phil Plait started it as "what are the chances of an astronomical event damaging society?" and finished it by wrapping up the history of the universe. If you want to cut to the quick, flip to the end where he has a chart with the probability of the following in each person's lifetime:* asteroid impact (1/700,000)* solar flare or coronal mass ejection (CME): not measurable* supernova (1/10 million)* gamma ray burst (1/14 million)* An interesting book, it looks as if Phil Plait started it as "what are the chances of an astronomical event damaging society?" and finished it by wrapping up the history of the universe. If you want to cut to the quick, flip to the end where he has a chart with the probability of the following in each person's lifetime:* asteroid impact (1/700,000)* solar flare or coronal mass ejection (CME): not measurable* supernova (1/10 million)* gamma ray burst (1/14 million)* black hole (1/1 trillion)* alien attack* death of the sun* galactic doom* death of the universeSo, what starts as a treatise on asteroids and their potential impact, progresses to the physics of the sun (and then other stars and the galaxy). A good read: and it will be interesting to see how much the perspective changes over the next 50 years as we learn more about the stars surrounding us.The asteroid risk analysis is very good, discussing how much material collects in the earth's atmosphere each day (20-40 tons) and how often rocks of 1m or larger hit the earth (once each month). It also discusses the difference between the Tunguska Siberian event, which created an atmospheric explosion due to a 70m soft asteroid exploding and the 1-mile wide Meteor Crater in Arizona, caused by a 50m solid iron meteoriate.
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