Outside of the Book World, it turns out that some other things happened this week aside from the publication of a certain book….We got to meet Pluto for the first time! The sight of the dwarf planet itself is second in my books only to all the happy scientists who have seen their hard work, intelligence, hopes, and dreams pay off, more than nine years of waiting (and Bill Nye was there, too!).
We’ve talked here before about the wonder and danger of exploration, and wandering off the map, and it seems like there are few greater adventures than outer space. And learning that the New Horizons spacecraft travelled 3 billion miles to get to Pluto, and has plans to travel even father still is simply mind-boggling. This piano-sized spacecraft has managed to make it to the edge of the solar system, the edge of our knowledge, around meteor belts, comets, space rocks, possibly Dr. Who, on its way past the farther point in the universe we know (which, up to yesterday, was Neptune, which we saw for the first time in 1989), and given us all a reason to dream of what is might show us next.
Perhaps the greatest part of the story is that onboard New Horizons are the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto in 1930, at the age of 24. It’s fascinating to think of how short our relationship with Pluto has been, overall, but it looks like that relationship is about to get pretty interesting….
So for all of you who, like, me, think the pictures coming back from New Horizon are just the coolest things ever, here is a list of space exploration/adventure themed materials to check out during your next library visit….
If you like Pluto, Then be sure to check out…
The Martian: A best-seller upon its release, Andy Weir’s book as received a new wave of attention thanks to the upcoming release of the film adaptation starring Matt Damon (you can see the trailer here). This is the story of Mark Watney, the first man to walk on Mars–and the man who has been abandoned on Mars after a dust storm separated him from his team. But Watney isn’t content to sit and wait for the inevitable–he is going to live now for the chance to go home. This is a great book because, despite the sheer existential terror of being the only human being on an entire planet, the tension inherent our hero’s quest, and the depth of detail that Weir built into this story, neither he not his hero Watney ever lose their sense of humor over the course of this epic human endurance story. Nor does it lose its respect for duct tape. What more could you want in a book?
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void: Author Mary Roach writes some of the most unexpected popular science around today. Her topics range from the science of taste and eating to the search for ghosts and the afterlife, but each book so intensely engaging, quirky, and enlightening, making them perfectly light, educating reading. This book tackles those questions about space travel that we’ve all wondered, but never actually asked: how do astronauts go to the bathroom in reduced gravity? Can they take a shower? But beyond these answers, Roach also writes about the considerable physical and psychological difficulties that astronauts face, and how looking into the unknown makes us all confront our own humanity differently. A must read for anyone who ever dreamed of the stars.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Books like The Martian are considered ‘hard science fiction’, in that they deal with actual details about space travel, planetary science, etc., Douglas Adams’ classic is not quite the same thing, dealing as it does with the bulldozing of earth to create an intergalactic freeway, and the erstwhile human, Arthur Dent, who gets picked up seconds before the end. This is one of my favorite books in the world, for so many reasons. It’s funny, ridiculous (the send-up of human and alien bureaucracy alone are enough to heal your soul a little), wonderfully imaginative, and deeply insightful, featuring, as it does, the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. For those of you who enjoy audiobooks, do not miss Stephen Fry’s recording of this book. And remember: Don’t Panic.
Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery: Margaret Weitekamp’s terrific book for younger readers explores the history of Pluto from its discovery by Tombaugh in 1930, up to its re-classification as a dwarf planet, and also considers how planets are named and studied. The text is informative and fun (not an easy combination to achieve), and the artwork by Diane Kidd is simply delightful. With all this talk about Pluto recently, this is the perfect introduction to the solar system, but older readers are sure to find plenty of fun facts in these pages, as well!