Have you ever wanted to visit the laboratory of a ground-breaking research scientist? Now you can, because Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein will allow you to feel like you are standing right next to Dr. Geoff Marcy in his quest to find extrasolar planets (planets that revolve around stars other than our sun).
Vicki Wittenstein begins by taking us to the site of the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The telescopes are on a mountain so high that it rises above the clouds. The temperatures are below freezing, even in the summer, and getting to the telescopes is treacherous because of the narrow icy roads and high altitude (The author had to have an oxygen supply to visit.) Who knew that astronomy could be dangerous?
Once we’ve met Dr. Marcy and his team, the author explains carefully and clearly how to go about looking for planets orbiting around far away stars. The planets themselves are not visible because they do not reflect enough light to be detected by a telescope. Dr. Marcy uses a spectrometer to look for evidence that a star is wobbling. Stars wobble when gravity from nearby planets is tugging on them. Gathering data to establish the presence of a single planet can require years and years of tedious work. Dr. Marcy and his team have been successful, however, and have discovered half the extrasolar planets now known.
Can you imagine what it must be like to find a planet revolving around a far away star? What are the planet’s characteristics? Is it able to support life? How many extrasolar planets are out there? These are the kinds of difficult and exciting questions Dr. Marcy pursues.
This book is filled with gorgeous full-color photographs and illustrations. The “To Learn More” section at the end contains plenty of additional sources of information, as well as an extensive and helpful glossary to explain all the terminology used.
Planet Hunter is sure to thrill children interested in science and particularly those enamored with space and astronomy. It covers such a unique and contemporary topic (the first planets outside our solar system were found in 1992). Although listed as middle grade, this book is also appropriate for high school and adults who want to catch up on this area quickly, because of the high level of detail given.
For another review of Planet Hunter and suggested activities, see Simply Science.
Growing With Science celebrates Planet Hunter with related hands-on activities for children.
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press (March 1, 2010)
Book was provided by author.