The Planets: Photographs From The Archives Of NASA by Nirmala Nataraj (book review).

November 9, 2017 | By | Reply More

There is one major observation you get when you look at the pictures in Nirmala Nataraj’s book ‘The Planets: Photographs From The Archives Of NASA’, you are looking at alien worlds and they belong to our Solar System. So close and photographs are the only way to really see them. If that alone doesn’t convince you to buy this book, what will?

The Planets: Photographs from the Archives of NASA text by Nirmala Nataraj, photographs by NASA, preface by Bill Nye (Chronicle Books, £30)

It’s even more remarkable that we have managed to send space probes to see them and in some cases with the outer planets, like the Voyagers and Juno, only a couple times at that. You then have to wonder why these photos will take your breath away.

I wish with the Venus radar photos showing beneath the clouds that as well as showing the colour depths, that they’d also included what the scale the colours represented. Some of the photos throughout the book will inform of distance they were photographed from but scale is everything.

Even though I’ve seen photos of Mars at ground level before, seeing them together here is a reminder in context that this is an alien planet and in astronomical terms, it’s on our doorstep and no one but our machines have visited it yet. If anything, I wish we could see some of the mountain ranges and deep ravines but I doubt if we’d risk losing the landers there.

The dark streaks on these Martian slopes are believed to come from a seasonal flow of briny liquid water. This image was captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and consists of a false-colour image superimposed onto a 3-D computer model.
Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, SSI
The Planets: Photographs from the Archives of NASA text by Nirmala Nataraj, photographs by NASA, preface by Bill Nye (Chronicle Books, £30)

Looking at the photos of Jupiter and seeing the red spot is finally beginning to vanish in a big way makes me wonder if it will happen in my lifetime and, more importantly, will another one erupt? After all, the photos in his book shows this as a common phenomenon throughout the gaseous covers of the outer planets.

This false-colour image from Cassini shows the vast storm at Saturn’s north pole, which gathers within the yellow-green, hexagonally shaped jet stream. The storm within the hexagonal ring is 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometres) across, or over twice the diameter of Earth. The eye of the storm, which appears dark red, is 1,250 miles (2,010 kilometres) across and contains speeds up to 330 miles (531 kilometres) per second. Outside the eye, lower clouds are depicted in orange, while a smaller pale-blue vortex (at the bottom, centre-right) indicates a smaller storm within the overall storm. In fact, there are many smaller vortices spinning within the enormous storm; the largest of these spans 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometres), twice the size of the largest hurricane ever recorded on Earth. In this image, the north pole region is framed by Saturn’s rings, which appear vibrant blue.
Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, SSI
The Planets: Photographs from the Archives of NASA text by Nirmala Nataraj, photographs by NASA, preface by Bill Nye (Chronicle Books, £30)

Seeing how the Cassini probe photographed Saturn and its moons, which a lot of the time were tiny specs, gives a true idea of the scale of things surrounding the ringed planet. It was also interesting see the giant storm at one of Saturn’s poles.

With the pictures of Uranus and it being the only planet whose on its side compared to the rest, it’s no wonder that its rings were missed until the fly-by. Considering its gaseous atmosphere, you do have to wonder what hit it so hard to do that to it. The photos of Neptune and the reveal of its own ‘Small Dark Spot’ seems to mean that none of these distant planet avoid centuries long storms. Makes ours look pale in comparison. I hadn’t realised that it was suspected that its moon, Triton, was thought to have been captured from the Kuiper Belt. That being the case, I would put it on the top of my wish list to have it further investigated because we’d learn a lot more about the Kuiper Belt there than sending a probe further out.

This composite image—created from a mosaic of images of the moon Triton, which was then composited against an image of Neptune—shows how Neptune might look as seen from behind the largest of its thirteen moons. Triton’s eroded south polar cap, the result of prolonged Sun exposure, is shown in detail, as is Triton’s surface, which has a number of craters as well as smooth volcanic plains and icy lava flows. Its crust, made of frozen nitrogen, is believed to cover a dense core of rock and metal. Triton is the only large moon that we know of with a retrograde orbit (meaning it orbits in a direction counter to Neptune’s rotation). Scientists believe that Triton is a Kuiper Belt object that was pulled in by Neptune’s gravity millions of years ago. Like our Moon, Triton is in a synchronous rotation with its mother planet, meaning that only one side of the moon ever faces the planet.
Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, SSI
The Planets: Photographs from the Archives of NASA text by Nirmala Nataraj, photographs by NASA, preface by Bill Nye (Chronicle Books, £30)

The last section of this book, ‘Other Bodies Of The Solar System’, covers everything else from the Sun to the lesser planets, like Pluto and Ceres and the Asteroid Belt, so nothing is neglected. Drawing a reference made to it must have been a planet or something of that size hitting Uranus that tipped it on its size and that Ceres is the more spherical of the Asteroid Belt does make me wonder if the entire debris was the source. I mean, something that big causing that much upset would have done even more damage passing deeper into the Solar system or broken up.

As ever, you can tell by the length of my reviews if a book has struck me. You might have seen some of these photos elsewhere but to have them all together under one cover less so. Be in awe. We are surrounded by the most unique places we are least likely to visit in our own lifetimes.

GF Willmetts

November 2017

(pub: Chronicle Books. 253 page illustrated square hardback. Price: £30.00 (UK), $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4521-5936-2)

check out website: www.chronicles.com


Category: Books, Science

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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