Tag Archives: new horizons

The best science books I read in 2018

It’s the end of another year and we all know what that means. Indeed, it’s time for year lists! Here I want to mention the 5 science books I enjoyed reading most this year. If they haven’t been published in 2018 I will mention this as such. I’m not using any particular order, other than the order I have read them in. In case you haven’t read one or more of them, I hope I will inspire you to do so. Except perhaps the first one, if you don’t speak Dutch you have an excuse. But that’s probably the only one.

Verstoppertje Spelen Met Aliens by Jean-Paul Keulen (nov. ’17)

The title means “Playing hide and seek with aliens”. It is a scientific approach on why we haven’t heard from the aliens, and also why we haven’t found the aliens and why this might take a while. Keulen has a very pleasant way of writing and a great sense of humor. The book is a great even without a scientific background. He takes the search for aliens pretty far without getting into the questions whether extraterrestrial intelligence exists. This book is about the scientific possibilities and not about the existential question. A shame it’s not in English. 

The Order Of Time by Carlo Rovelli

Time. What is time? It flows in different speed in different places. Gravity has a big influence on time. And Quantum Theory has a lot to say about time as well. Rovelli has a very enthusiastic way of telling. Be aware that you need to stay focused. This book is written with inspiring people to get into Quantum Theory in mind (worked on me) but he also easily trails off. This is interesting but if you are listening to this book like I did rather than reading, you need to focus on every word he says. Flipping back the pages because you lost the plot temporarily isn’t that easy when listening.

Chasing New Horizons – Alan Stern and David Grinspoon

Warning: if you have accepted that Pluto isn’t a planet (like I had), this book will likely change your mind. Granted, this book is written by Mister Pluto himself but isn’t propaganda on why Pluto is a planet. The whole matter is discussed only briefly. No, this book is all about how the mission was created. The struggle that followed. The dedication of the people involved. All the setbacks. You know that New Horizons will become a success, otherwise you’re reading expecting a disappointment. The book tells a fascinating story of determined people who want nothing more than explore space. Also, Pluto is a planet.

Endurance – Scott Kelly (oct. ’17)

Scott Kelly spent a year in the International Space Station. How did he made it to that special assignment? Turns out that this is an inspirational story of someone who had some odds against him but never gave up. Even when he believed it wouldn’t happen he kept on that path. The story of how he became an astronaut are mixed with his year on space. A story of success and a story of loss. No matter where you are in life yourself and what your goals are, this book will inspire you in one way or another. I listened to this book and it was read by Kelly himself which gave the audio book an warmer feel.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions – Stephen Hawking

I have reviewed this book on my blog recently but it belongs in this list. If you were to read only one science book, make sure it’s this one. Hawking writes brilliantly and with a lot of humor. He possessed the ability to explain the even most complex things in a way that leaves you understanding even a black hole. His brief answers are really explaining the big scientific questions. We still have a long way to go understanding the universe though. It was in the making while he was still alive. By the time it was published it wasn’t just a great science book. It’s a last testimony of the most gifted scientist of our time. He will be missed.

New Horizons reaches Ultima Thule and this is cool

On New Year’s Day the New Horizons spacecraft will flyby Ultima Thule. Previously it brought Pluto closer to us and closer to our hearts. Now it continues to explore the Kuiper Belt. This is cool indeed. 

Ultima Thule, not just any rock

Ultima Thule is not just any rock hidden in the Kuiper Belt. It’s carefully chosen while New Horizons has long flown by Pluto.  Scientists still don’t know whether it’s just one rock, or two closely orbiting each other. 2014 MU64, as the object was formerly known, will be the most primitive world ever observed from up close. And this could tell us a lot about our own world, Earth, as well. 

As we have seen with the Pluto flyby, LORRI is able to take breathtaking images. LORRI stands for Long Range Reconnaissance Imager and is a telescopic camera. New Horizons will flyby closer than it has by Pluto and Ultima Thule is smaller than the planet. The expectations are high. But due to the incredible distant we may have to wait until January 2 or even January 3 for the first images to emerge. Data will take at least 6 hours to reach Earth. And this needs to be sorted and filtered. 

Keep on giving

New Horizons will try to gain as much info as possible in the few seconds it flies by Ultima Thule. It will take more than a year for all the information to be downloaded. The spacecraft will then long be on its way to perhaps yet another target. This is yet to be decided. As long New Horizon has fuel, it runs on plutonium actually, it will be able to explore more. 

It makes New Horizons the gift that keeps on giving. The Pluto flyby alone exceeded all the expectations. The data gathered from that encounter is still leaving scientists amazed every day. It has re-opened the debate whether Pluto is a planet or not. This is not just because people melted when Pluto showed its heart (named the Thombaugh region, named after Pluto’s discoverer). New Horizons showed that Pluto is a very active world and ticks every box it needs in order to be a real planet. Except it just hasn’t cleared its orbit. 

A great start of 2019

Data gathering and photo taking aside, this flyby will be historic. We’ve never seen a world from so close by ever before. No spacecraft has ever done this. The Kuiper Belt can be seen as a collection of rocks that failed to make it into a planet. It could very well tell us more on how our solar system was formed and perhaps even how life made it to our planet. 

2019 will have a great start for all space fans. The Ultima Thule flyby will be the perfect start of an amazing year in space. Not bad for a mission that nearly didn’t even see the light of day. It now shows us the edges of our solar system. And that is indeed cool. 

I’m wishing everyone on the New Horizons team the best of luck during this flyby. And thank you for never giving up on this mission. It’s been all worth it. And the end is yet not in sight!