Planet Hunter–Out of this World!

March 31, 2010

Planet Hunter

Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths

By Vicki Oransky Wittenstein

Boyds Mills Press, 2010

ISBN# 978-1590785928

Grades 5-8

Nonfiction

“As the sun sets on the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, golden light bathes the huge domes anchoring each end of a narrow white building. A halo of orange, pink, and magenta swirls overhead, while below, waves of clouds form a blanket so thick and wide that it looks like an ocean.”

At the first glance, this book’s lyrical text draws in the reader, curious to see what it might be about. From the first sentence, however, it grips the reader’s attention and before long, the information-dense text envelopes and carries you away into the far reaches of the universe.

Based on the work of astronomer Dr. Geoff Marcy and others in his field, the book explains how Dr. Marcy has discovered 180 out of the 400 planets found outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. Dr. Marcy’s work led him to a method for positively identifying exoplanets, in particular the smaller sized ones, and his goal is to identify an exoplanet that has similar characteristics to our Earth in the hopes of finding other living, intelligent life. The book begins with an explanation of the process in action, continues with Dr. Marcy’s developing interest and how he finally settled on a direction, and ends with a discussion of the facts and future of exoplanet study and the possibility of alien worlds.

Wittensteins’s text is filled with fascinating information that thoroughly explains complex scientific principles in an easy to understand way. I’ve never read a better explanation of the Doppler Effect (p. 20) for children and was amazed at the way Dr. Marcy came up with it to locate and track exoplanets. Diagrams and captions supplement the text and photos show more details, along with the activities of Dr. Marcy and his co-workers. A few illustrations are artist renderings, but stay true to the known facts.

The back matter holds an extensive list of more reading, web sites, a glossary, and index. Boyds Mills Press produces beautiful books that enlighten and inform the reader in a delightful way with a freedom that allows the books to reach readers in depth. This is my second Boyds Mills Press book in as many weeks and they are excellent.

 This book is reminiscent of The Frog Scientist by Pamela Turner, an award winner last year. Wittenstein follows this astronomer and his research in a manner similar to Turner’s book.

Curious readers of any age can enjoy the information and budding astrophysicists in particular may be inspired. I look for this to win awards of some sort. This is Wittenstein’s first book and it’s a winner.

Activity 1

Look up more information about the 55 Cancri family of planets and on the requirements of life. Explain why the location of the planet in the habitable zone might be able to support life. Use pages 26, 27, and 34 to guide your search.

Information and animation link

more information

video rendering

Geoff Marcy’s home page has more information

videos of Dr. Marcy and his explanations

Check out Roberta’s blog and her fantastic ideas for science activities.

Read an interview with Vicki at Through the Tollbooth

For younger readers, try Kids Can Press’ Out of This World by Jacob Berkowitz.

National Science Standard: Earth in the solar system

Book donated by author.


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