Vacation Guide to the Solar System

By Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich

Penguin Books | 2017 | 234 pages

Reviewed by Fred Beauford

The writers of this sometimes-interesting book sets the stage exactly right in the very first paragraph: “Some may question the wisdom of creating a vacation guide to the planets,” Koski and Grcevich write, “when human feet haven’t touched the ground of another world (the moon) since 1972. If you’re thinking that a space vacation is a distant fantasy, however, remember that one hundred years ago, airplanes were a cutting-edge technology. The fast ones could travel at the “great speed” of 120 miles an hour, bringing a prospective space traveler to Neptune in 2,571 years. In 1989, the Voyager 2 spacecraft reached Neptune in less than twelve years traveling at 42,000 miles per hour. One hundred years from now, who knows how long a trip to Neptune might take?

“Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves first, humans will go to places we describe in this book someday, almost without question.”

The authors then take us on a journey to all the planets in the solar system and point out in the three rocky planets, Mercury, Venus and Mars, where we have already sent probes to map the terrain—all of the natural features for the vacationer. To be frank, I found little on these planets of interest. Just a lot of bad weather. My great interest in Mars, besides perhaps viewing Mount Olympus, the tallest extinct volcano in the solar system, is, did life on Earth begin on Mars? We now know with certainty that Mars once had an atmosphere and vast oceans of water, but did it also have life? And did chunks of Mars, break of and find its way to our oceans? It certainly did in my novella, A History of the 21st Century.

It is when we get to the gas giants, with the granddaddy of them all, Jupiter, that I became excited to see what more I could learn about them. When you get to Jupiter that is when our “vacation” really began, not only because this planet “is a planet of storms, force of nature, with a mass far greater than that of the rest of the planets in the solar system combined. His power is intoxicating.”

But, it is not just Jupiter itself. Our two authors write, “Though it’s easy to become hypnotized by the planet’s sand sculpture cloudbursts, it’s the moons that will seduce you. The Jovian system is a solar system within a solar system, hosting satellites as varied as—some even bigger than—planets.”

We have learned much since that groundbreaking PBS series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, first was aired by a PBS affiliate, KCET in 1978 and was presented by Carl Sagan. Now, the Science Channel can give anyone who cares to listen in, updated information about wormholes, quantum mechanics, death stars, merging galaxies, multiple and parallel universes, where there might be millions of me walking around, string theory, and on and on, including a close look at our own tiny solar system, which has turned out to be more interesting than we could ever imagined just a few decades before, including a close looks at the moons of Jupiter, all 67 of them; including the most interesting ones like Io, Europa, Ganymede; and also, Saturn’s mighty moon, Titan, and all the other moons of the gas giant.

As I have said, Vacation Guide to the Solar System is sometimes very interesting, but I will also say, try the Science Channel. It will give you goosebumps discovering all the things that can come out of nowhere from our vast universe and ruin your day.

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