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HOW TO DIE IN SPACE by Paul M. Sutter Kirkus Star


A Journey Through Dangerous Astrophysical Phenomena

by Paul M. Sutter

Pub Date: June 2nd, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-64313-438-3
Publisher: Pegasus

Sure, space travel sounds like fun—but there are countless ways to die out there. Comets, black holes, radiation, solar flares, neutron stars, supernovae—the universe is endlessly creative in devising phenomena that make leaving the comfortable atmosphere of Earth a risk. “Space is nasty,” writes astrophysicist Sutter, who adopts an informal, humorous persona in this book-length warning to aspiring astronauts: “Let’s sketch out the most dangerous parts of the solar system: The solar system. There, that was easy.” It’s a refreshing approach to a vast and complex subject, and the author doesn’t skimp on the science despite his non-serious tone. He walks readers through the physics of familiar dangers such as asteroids (“rocks that are looking for a target”) and unstable stars (“slumbering dragon[s], just waiting for the chance to awaken and begin breathing flame”) as well as more exotic elements—e.g., the “deadly, poisonous embrace” of the white dwarf or “the infinite density” of a black hole’s singularity. Sutter also covers what he calls “speculative threats,” which include “relics of the ancient universe” such as dark matter, cosmic strings, or the alluring possibility of aliens and wormholes. The author's analyses are deeply researched and enormously interesting, and he navigates the nuances of new science and evolving knowledge deftly, with nontechnical readers in mind. In the end, Sutter shifts slightly from his doomsday focus to reveal his serious enthusiasm for humankind’s future as intergalactic explorers. “I wrote these chapters to weed out the weak and unwilling. To scare some sense into them,” he writes. “For the remaining, the more foolish and daring and curious than usual, this book is a guide. It’s really an excuse to talk about all the wonderful physics happening in the cosmos….There is so much to learn, and we need to study it as closely and intimately as possible.” Sutter’s macabre humor and lucid science writing make this an entertaining read with mass appeal. (8 pages of color photos)