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Top Space-themed Reads of 2006

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Beyond Earth, edited by Bob KroneThe Earth has almost returned to its same relative location about our Sun as when I last prepared a summary of my book reviews. While facing the daily ritual of rising, getting dressed and undertaking the day’s tasks, I try to snatch moments to think about this marvel. We are all spinning madly about the Earth’s iron core, which itself orbits ceaselessly about a great fusion reactor that constantly bathes us with warmth. All the while, seemingly through nothing, we hurtle further and further from something called the galactic centre, toward somewhere else. The books I review help me with this perspective of our existence and also help me keep in balance with all the daily news coming in.

The books I read don’t hold any great reflection for the year. There was no significant anniversary nor outstanding celestial display. Most filled in little more nooks and crannys of humanity’s ongoing build-up of information. Aside from being space related, no general theme carried these works into notoriety. From one vantage point, each writer and editor continually showed their great ability in putting ideas onto paper. Prose was sharp, topics were punctual more than verbose and appropriate diagrams and pictures spiced up the pages. This year, like the previous, all the books were a joy to read.

Given this fine writing skill and the timeliness of space research, I find championing these books a pleasurable and rewarding past time. Yet, I find it hard to believe most people prefer television to a good book. I suggest we try countering this trend. If gift giving comes upon you, think of any of the great space books continually being published. Giving one as a gift may be all that’s needed to instill a sense of wonder in place of the monotony of another video game.

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The following are a few choice selections from my reviews I’ve completed for Universe Today. Michio Kau’s book ‘Parallel Worlds‘ published by Penguin is easy to read and will quickly have the reader contemplating our place in the universe. He gives a recount of much of today’s fascinating astrophysics and then considers the future, billions of years on. It will definitely move a reader’s perspective off-planet, at least for a while.

Should you wonder how we might get off planet, try Beyond Earth edited by Bob Krone and published by Apogee. This collection of essays acknowledges the difficulties of establishing a human presence in space. But more to the point, it broaches ideas and plans for making it happen. For the most part, its ideas are less technical and more societal as its belief is that we can do it, we just haven’t the desire. It’s an invigorating read for anyone contemplating huge projects or endeavours whether space based or not.

For those who rather spend some time going back down glory’s road, try Saturn written by Alan Lawrie and published by Apogee. This showcases the hardware development and trials for the really big rocket that sent men to the Moon in the 1960s. The accompanying CD depicting engine trials should really exercise your home theatre system. Given that some of the Saturn hardware may be incorporated into NASA’s next generation launcher, this book may be more relevant than most history types.

The final choice selection is Europa written by Richard Greenberg and published by Springer. This book wonderfully distills dry analysis of one of Jupiter’s moons into an appreciation of how difficult it is working at the forefront of knowledge. Yet, it permits the reader to join scientists as they consider the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. Perhaps this is how an observer felt when Christopher Columbus returned to tell his tale at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella.

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In addition to these, there were many other excellent books. Some returned to the Columbia shuttle disaster. Others continued on looking at Einstein’s contributions, perhaps as late arrivals from celebrating last year’s hundredth anniversary of his first great writings. Many astronomy books, both texts and guides, came through. Astronomy by Ian Ridpath and published by DK books is a fine one for amateurs. Also, many books specifically for introducing children to space show this topic to be accessible to everyone. Reviews for all of these are found in the Universe Today web site.

I hope these reviews help you in choosing a fine book to read or in helping get someone else better acquainted with our host universe. Don’t hesitate to continue sending me comments directly, or to Fraser Cain, the editor of Universe Today, or to the BAUT forum where anyone may be able to help you. For now, have a great time thinking of the stars, and let’s all try to enjoy another swing about our lovely home star.

Written by Mark Mortimer

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Chats and reflections on the present moment.

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Lydia Polgreen

Credit…Will Heath/NBC, via Getty Images

It is a rare thing in our rapidly secularizing country to be confronted with piety and devotion in popular culture. So it was a surprise, and a balm, to watch a man who prays daily and talks openly about his devout faith storm a bastion of earthly godlessness: “Saturday Night Live.”

I am referring, of course, to the comedian Ramy Youssef, who hosted the show on what he described in his opening monologue as “an incredibly spiritual weekend,” noting Ramadan, Easter and the arrival of a new Beyoncé album.

“I’m doing the Ramadan one,” he quipped, to peals of laughter, unspooling a very funny bit about how loving Muslims are. Youssef has mined his experience as a believer among the profane in gentle standup specials and a namesake sitcom. His entire monologue glowed with a welcoming warmth — Muslims, he seemed to say: We’re just like you.

In a country that is supposedly obsessed with diversity and inclusion, it is remarkable how rare it is to hear from a practicing Muslim in America.

Surveys by the Institute for Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan research organization focused on Muslim Americans, have consistently found that Muslims are the most likely group to report religious discrimination in the United States. According to a Pew survey conducted in 2021, 78 percent of Americans said that there was either a lot or some discrimination against Muslims in our society. Muslims are no more likely to commit crimes than members of any other group, but crimes in which Muslims are suspects get outsized media coverage, research has shown.

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It is no surprise, then, that Islamophobia is perhaps the most tolerated form of religious prejudice. Right now, Senate Republicans appear to have persuaded several Senate Democrats to vote against a Muslim judicial nominee after smearing him, with no evidence at all, as an antisemite.

Many of the skits that toyed with religion on “S.N.L.” on Saturday were funny — Ozempic for Ramadan! Genius. But part of me winced through them as well, because I saw in Youssef something that other members of minority groups have had to do to “earn” their place in the safety of the mainstream: the performance of normalcy, of being nonthreatening and sweet, the requirement to prove that your community belongs in America just like everyone else’s.

I loved Youssef’s monologue, in which he bravely pleaded, “Please, free the people of Palestine. And please, free the hostages. All of the hostages.”

“I am out of ideas,” Youssef declared toward the end of his monologue. “All I have is prayers.”

To which this nonbeliever can only say: Same, Ramy. Same.

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