Comet Mania

Simon Schaffer

  • The comet is coming! by Nigel Calder
    BBC, 160 pp, £8.75, November 1980, ISBN 0 563 17859 0

Nigel Calder’s latest successful foray into the exotic depths of space investigates one of the more psychologically compelling problems in astronomy – comets and their consequences. Comets have always fascinated us: it is the task of this book to document that fascination – it does not explain it. Calder’s previous spectaculars, such as Violent Universe or Einstein’s Universe, have tried bravely to give us an insight into those problems which astronomers now find exciting: black holes, quasars, pulsars, general relativity. The celestial world is a good resource for such works: we can rely on the amazement conjured into being by contemplation of the heavens. Comets, however, seem to raise a few problems. For modern astronomy, we are told, they are ‘trivial’. More illuminatingly, ‘most of the agencies that finance high astronomy would frown on the allocation of salaried astronomers and valuable telescope time to so frivolous a task.’

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