article review: "The Madness of the Planets" by Corey S. Powell from "The Best American Science and Nature Writing"
“Earth, our anchor and our solitary haven in a hostile universe is in a precarious situation,” author Corey S. Powell writes. “The solar system around us is rife with instability.”
That might be a bit of poetic license, but the truth is, the universe is not the clockwork mechanism of Mr. Newton’s. This article, based on an interview with Alessandro Morbidelli, a planetary dynamics expert at the Nice Observatory in France, explores newer, more detailed ideas of the formation of the solar system.
The newer models address questions such as, why is Mars so small? They also propose an answer as to how Earth ended up with water. At the same time, there is no denying an inherent instability in the solar system necessary for the model. The planets’ obits have moved with time. Some objects from the Oort Cloud or the Kuiper Belt hurtle sunward and collide with other objects in the way, even the earth.
The most dramatic recent example of such is the Chelyabinsk meteor in Russia in Feb. 2013. According to Morbidelli, the meteor could have resulted from a smash-up in the asteroid belt (the combination of the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt) when things were really active 30,000 years ago.
This is an interesting, informative little essay. Opening statements notwithstanding, there is not one cry about the sky falling. It is one of the better essays in this book.
According the contributors’ notes, Corey S. Powell is editor at large for Discover magazine as well as acting editor of American Scientist. In addition to his “Out There” column for Discover , he’s contributed to Smithsonian, Popular Science and Slate.
Title: “The Madness of the Planets”
Published in: The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014
First Published: Nautilus December 2013
Author: Corey S. Powell
© Denise Longrie
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