From gamma ray bursts to supernova, to comets and asteroids and the slow but very certain death and decay of all things, the Universe is really out to kill you in all sorts of horrifying and imaginative ways. Think of the Universe as a Medieval Inquisitor with a few billion years of experience under his belt and a lot of ways of making you talk. Oh and just like the Inquisitors, it’s nothing personal. Just the way things are. It’s that killer aspect of the space and time which astronomer Phil Plait tackles in his book Death From The Skies.
Just like National Geographic’s popular special, Aftermath: Population Zero, it’s fascinating in a macabre way that appeals to those curious about their own mortality and who ponder just how this world will end. So humans, basically. Rather than just describe in vivid detail how Earth gets slammed with a giant space rock or devoured by black holes, or melted by the Sun, illustrating every step of the destruction like a slow motion shot from a sci-fi movie, Plait explains how an object in space or a cosmic force can be so horrifyingly destructive. And what makes every one of these scenarios so alluring is that they’re really plausible and really could happen.
While you’re reading about our planet’s demise, you’re getting a large and entertaining dose of science. The book effortlessly takes you from the basics of chemistry and physics all the way to quantum mechanics and beyond. Even if you’re pretty knowledgeable about astronomy, you’ll learn a whole lot of things you didn’t know before by the time you’re done. Well, unless you’re a PhD in astronomy already and this stuff was on your final exams. Even then, the scenarios that describe every step of the cosmic carnage might still be a very fun read as Plait turns academic papers into colorful visions of the apocalypse far more interesting than any ancient legend.
[ illustration from a matte painting by Vitaly S. Alexius ]