I am a layman when it comes to astronomy. I have a high school education (largely retained), and decades of random reading about the heavens (perhaps less retained). But I am also a star gazer. It’s nice every now and then to go out at night, stare at the sky, and let the mind wander where it will. It’s precisely moments like that we forget about the minutiae of daily life and remember that Earth hurtles 30 km/sec through a void, not to mention that the myriad of life around us, billions of species, is not forever—that the greenhouse effect, regardless accelerated by humankind or not, will eventually burn everything to the ground, leaving only rock. Bringing to one place all the pertinent information on our solar system known as of 2019 is the BBC’s The Planets by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen (2019). It is star gazing of the most informed variety.
BBC embarking on a similar planets project twenty years ago, the 2019 edition of The Planets integrates what was known then with the information that has come to life or gelled in the meantime, all to create the most detailed picture of our solar system to date. Why is Mercury’s orbit the most irregular? How did Venus’ ecosystem come to be so hellish? Is/was their life on Mars? What hope do Jupiter’s moons offer for human life occurring beyond Earth? What exactly are Saturn’s rings, and how did they come to be formed? These and many, many other fascinating topics and facts are related, in lucid, wonderfully structured fashion. If there is anyone on Earth who knows how to collect, organize, and present information in an interesting, engaging fashion, it is BBC. The material in the book is enough for a semester’s course providing the tightest summary of the solar system.