Newest Review: ... the points made in this book allow the reader to can an overall basic knowledge of the solar system and everything in it. I am 18 and hav... more
Gobsmacking, Mind-boggling Science
Gobsmacking Galaxy - Kjartan Poskitt
Member Name: CarolineR-D
Gobsmacking Galaxy - Kjartan Poskitt
Advantages: Informative, engaging style
Disadvantages: A bit out of date
My youngest daughter has always been very interested in astronomy and this is one of the many books she has collected over the years. The Knowledge series of books is another spin off from the 'Horrible' series (i.e. Horrible History, Horrible Science, etc.) which aims to take some of the heaviness out of really vast subjects and make the learning experience fun and engaging. The Knowledge series includes such titles as Flaming Olympics, Murderous Maths and Potty Politics and the books are written by a variety of different authors. In this book, Kjartan Poskitt explores the mysteries of the universe, showing us how our galaxy was born and introducing us to stars, planets, red giants, black holes and other wonderful things. On the back of the book it says - "If you want to be in the know, get The Knowledge" and I would have to agree that The Gobsmacking Galaxy presents a complex subject in a way that is accessible and not so intimidating to children. The book is suitable for children from around age 10 and upwards but also suitable for adults who might want to brush up on a subject or learn the basics so that they can assist children with school project work. (I have always been astonished by how much I have been able to expand my own learning through books that are intended for children!)
Although the book is written in a conversational, amusing style with lots of cartoons, the humour never becomes too silly. It keeps the mood light but does not distract from the subject. I think this is particularly important in a book about space where you really do need to concentrate to get your head round some of the jaw-dropping information. What I really like is that the author's enthusiasm for the subject shines through and there's something rather infectious about his sense of awe when he contemplates the stars and wonders about the black area behind them. "What is it? Who put it there? How far away is it?" And the freakiest question of all....is there anything on the other side?" It draws the reader in from the start and it just gets better and better, because the reader does not just receive the information in a passive way. This book encourages children to get outside on a clear night and look up to the sky. From a parent's point of view, I was pleased to read that you don't need any special equipment to get started apart from your own eyes and this book. The author does make the point that a good pair of binoculars will show you things in more detail, but there are no bossy instructions to go out and buy a complicated telescope! There is lots of useful information about the things you can spot in the night sky if the conditions are favourable. The book seems to be suggesting that going out on a clear night and exploring with your own eyes will be sufficient to show whether your child really does have the astronomy bug, which is sensible advice.
I was impressed by the way that the author managed to simplify the subject matter sufficiently so that it was meaningful to children. By stirring a bowl of soup so that it goes round and round then pouring a dribble of cream across it you can observe a spinning, spiral shape which is similar to the shape of our galaxy. Children are encouraged to try this and as experiments go, it couldn't be simpler - science at dinner time! In any book on space, there are going to be lots mathematical concepts to grapple with and one thing my daughter really appreciated was the guide to temperature which is set out at the start of the book. When you are reading about a planet being so many degrees centigrade, it doesn't always register how hot or cold that is. By pointing out that water boils at 100 degrees C, 25 degrees C is a nice warm day and minus 273 degrees C is the coldest temperature possible, you start to get a better sense of perspective.
There is an excellent balance between theory and practice in this book. For example, I liked the section where children are encouraged to look at the moon and notice how its shape appears to change at different times. Why is this? By shining a torch onto a ball in a darkened room children can discover how the appearance of the moon changes according to the direction of sunlight. Again, it is great to be able to conduct experiments without the need for complicated equipment. You can also make a model of the solar system which will illustrate the distances between the planets, or play a game (all you need is a dice) to see if you can get through the Asteroid Belt.
If you have ever wondered what it is like to fly through space, the book takes you for a test drive and explains the concepts of gravity and orbits in a refreshingly comprehensible way. My daughter's favourite part of the book is the section in which you go on an imaginary trip to the planets. The information is set out clearly and in addition to providing the basic facts about atmosphere, temperature, radiation levels, etc. we also get to meet an alien from each planet. The author imagines what the aliens would look like if they really existed. For example, he suggests that a Mercurian would grow very tall (possibly as high as a 5-storey building) due to the gravity on Mercury being so low. A Jovian from Jupiter would probably look like a huge hot air balloon so that it could float above the planet all the time, due to the fact that Jupiter doesn't have a reasonable surface to land on. The alien from Pluto presents as the most forlorn of all, however, a slug-like creature clinging to the ground as the gravity is so weak, and its nose running from the extreme cold! It's a very inventive way of emphasising the most significant characteristics of each planet. Children would no doubt have fun creating aliens of their own, drawing pictures of them and writing stories about them.
The book does become a bit heavy going towards the end. The author stresses that our imaginary journey to Pluto would have covered at least 6,000 million kilometres but that in terms of space travel that is still very much "in our own backyard." It's enough to turn your brain to mush when you start thinking just what else is out there in deep space. This section introduces Einstein's theory of relativity and, although this is explained as simply as it could be, it isn't something that I could easily get my head around, let alone a child. We are invited to take a journey at almost the speed of light to explore the theory that the faster you travel, the more time will slow down or maybe stop completely. It's fascinating but hardly makes for light reading. My daughter found this less interesting than learning about the planets, but it's certainly a good way to introduce topics that will take on greater significance later on when children study physics.
This is a very well-written, informative book. The trouble with astronomy books though is that they will eventually become out of date as new discoveries are made. This book was published in 1997 so some time ago. It speaks of the nine planets of the solar system when the current thinking is that there are eight planets and four dwarf planets, with Pluto not being considered a planet anymore. My daughter also informed me that there have been new developments in relation to the truth of Einstein's claim that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. My daughter does not discard her older astronomy books, however. She actually finds them interesting when they become a bit out of date because she likes to look back and see how theories and opinions have changed in the light of new scientific investigation and debate. She does still enjoy this book. Ideally though, I can see that it makes sense to buy a book that is as up to date as possible, especially for a child who has no prior knowledge of the subject. However, there is still plenty to learn here and I would certainly not discount it for its ability to spur the young reader's imagination and encourage children to become actively involved in learning. It can be purchased new from Amazon sellers for a mere £0.01.
Summary: Despite being a bit out of date, its enthusiasm for the subject is inspiring