The Stardust Revolution by Jacob Berkowitz (book review).

February 25, 2014 | By | Reply More

‘The Stardust Revolution’ has nothing to do with rebellion in outer space. The sub-title ‘The New Stories Of Our Origin In The Stars’ should put you more into the picture. Although author Jacob Berkowitz doesn’t use the statement ‘We are all stardust’, his examination of the connections between chemistry and astronomy will certainly strengthen it. If anything, he’s showing the proofs made in the past twenty years that confirms where the building blocks that became us came from.


The analysis of what stars were made of started in the 19th century by Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchoff using a combination of flame and prism was significant in proving that stars were made of the same material and a quick way to identify the various elements. This was advanced by William Huggens and William Miller who identified 27 elements in the stars. When you hear of spectral analysis of the stars today, they are still using this old and tried method. From such things, the connection between stars and planets grounded (sic) where we all came from and the discovery of how a star burns by fission although, oddly, this wasn’t until 1946 and George Gamow joining all the dots. All astronomical discoveries are far more recent than you would have thought and look how quickly it has accelerated. It was Fred Hoyle who figured out the Big Bang and the expanding universe.

From knowing what stars are made of, it was an easier move to follow what else did they generate other than heat, which is essentially stardust or particles which coalesce and form planets containing assorted chemicals. The gases that tend to dominate the atmosphere are hydrogen and oxygen. Following through from this with other elements, various compounds begin to form and explains giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn having methane atmospheres. Berkowitz doesn’t get too complex with chemistry explanations but showing how Alexander Oparin put things together will enable you to understand how the building blocks of life slowly began to build up and for Stanley Miller to electrify a primordial soup to create amino acids. Following this line of chemical development, to my mind, shows it’s possible to form like on any planet with similar chemicals available which I think is what the point was being made. We only have our own planet as an example of this but now we can use telescopes to discover planets also explains which kinds of worlds we are looking for.

Interestingly, following how this developed, there is always dissent in the scientific community over some possibilities until enough proof makes it impossible to ignore. Granted, the establishment doesn’t want to be seen as accepting every odd theory but you would have thought by now they would be a little more open-minded to at least confirm some possibilities than dismiss them out of hand.

There is an interesting line pointing out that the surface of the Earth has been radically changed by meteorite bombardment and that we aren’t really seeing its original surface. Yet the same isn’t matched to Mars whose surface must have had similar treatment before its part of its alleged surface was broken off and arrived on Earth which has similarities to meteorites than Mars which is my personal bugbear. When, as Berkowitz points out that we’ve had some 40 thousand tons of dust particles from space per year falling on Earth that does tend to be more plausible.

Seeing how various chemical compositions at freezing temperature become amino acids is eye-dazzling because it means there were more ways than one our basic building blocks to be built up.

The search for other worlds has intensified in the past twenty years with everything from Doppler shift to star’s slight tremble caused by giant planets being explained. Oddly, it’s the smaller planets that are now being found far quicker now. From my perspective, it does at least prove that our star system isn’t rare although finding life out there has still got a long way to go.

Something I will pick fault with as Berkowitz points at the film ‘Alien’ as having creatures that are silicon based as this isn’t so. Ash pointed out that the facehugger stage could replace its skin with silicates doesn’t tend to mean to say it’s silicon-based life-form and no one ever survived to medically examine the final life-form.

Two other little niggles. This book must surely hold the record for the number of times its title is mentioned throughout the chapters. The other is the use of ‘solar system’ instead of ‘star system’ although to be fair, it is only capped when applied to our own planetary system.

Forget the criticisms, if you want to see how far our examination of the universe and life being out there as well as down here, this book will give you a decent grounding in the progress so far. Although there is a lot of emphasis on meteorites and comets carrying the basic chemicals to create amino acids, I think the ease in which they are created just means all ways are possible. It is almost like life is begging to be started. If you come away from this book with that realisation then you will understand Man’s fascination with looking out into the universe.

GF Willmetts

February 2014

(pub: Prometheus Books. 376 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: $27.00 (US)., $28.50 (CAN), £16.31 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61614-549-1)

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About UncleGeoff

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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