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Ever since Galileoís discovery
The planets
Dava Sobel
Viking; $24.95

Following the success of her best-selling book, Longitude, Dava Sobel, a former New York Times science reporter, has turned her attention to the planets, and has produced a marvellous description of the members of the solar system.

Sobel begins with bare facts about the planets, noting differences in astrology and astronomy. She traces Galileoís discovery of Jupiterís moons in 1610 and the far more recent discoveries made there by his namesake, the Galileo spacecraft. Jupiter has no surface; itís a gas envelope swirling with counter-directional weather bands that compress themselves into a liquid around a solid core of hydrogen, the lightest element.

Sobelís colourful depictions of the planetsí surfaces, descriptions of their origins and dramatic histories, and explanations of their inner structures constitute a large part of this book. Admirers of Longitude, though, will be pleased to know that it contains a number of human stories, from those of the astronomers to those of the explorers who used their findings to guide them around the globe.

The Planets is a fascinating read.

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