Astrophysics For People In A Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Amitha bought this book for me as a birthday gift this year. Both her and I maybe called astronomy and astrophysics enthusiasts. We both love reading and learning about space, planets, stars, and galaxies as well as the physics behind some of the astronomical phenomena. And I have to admit, we both got a bit emotional when Cassini ended its mission last month.

This book is a surprisingly breezy read. If you follow Neil deGrasse Tyson on the internet and are familiar with the talks he gives and the concepts he presents, about 40-50% of the concepts presented in this book may be things that you may already know. But that doesn't mean that the book is useless. It does introduce and briefly explain a lot of new concepts. Briefly being the key word here. After all, the book is called `Astrophysics For People In A Hurry`.

There is a chapter on the periodic table that explains where most of the naturally occurring elements come from and how they are formed deep inside star cores. There is also a chapter on why most of the astronomical objects are spheroids and how these objects get shaped based on their own mass and their proximity to nearby heavy objects. There is also a very interesting chapter on how exo-planets are discovered and the different kinds of telescopes we use to study outer space. And, of course, there is a chapter dedicated to the quest for extra-terrestrial life forms.

Most of the efforts for the search of extra-terrestrial life seems to be focused on finding carbon-based life forms like us and thus focused on finding planets that support liquid water and an abundance of carbon. I had always wondered why this was the case. And I found the answer to that question in this book. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, followed by Helium and then Oxygen. That makes water the most abundant compound in the universe. In addition, Carbon is the 4th most abundant element and Carbon's unique property of being able to form polymers very easily makes the likelihood of alien life being carbon-based very high.

The book ends on a philosophical note asking the reader to acknowledge their position of privilege to be able to think about what is out there and what our place in the universe is. For, it is people who lead lives that don't involve a daily struggle for basic necessities, who can afford to think about these things.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. It has encouraged me to look into some of the more detailed works in this field.