Resources for Exploring the Solar System

Compiled by Andrew Fraknoi
(Foothill College & the Astronomical Society of the Pacific)

©2000 by Andrew Fraknoi. Permission to reproduce for any non-profit educational purpose is hereby granted. All other uses require written permission from the author; e-mail him at: fraknoiandrew {at}

In the last few decades, the planets and moons with which we share our cosmic neighborhood have stopped being mere points of light in the sky and have been revealed as worlds that we (or at least our robot representatives) can explore up close and in detail. Images and data from the surface of Mars or from orbit around the moons of Jupiter have profoundly transformed our understanding of the solar system. As a result, the number of books and articles being written about the exploration of the solar system has become - well - astronomical. Below, we list a very small selection of our favorite solar system readings and web sites to get armchair explorers, teachers, and students started.

Table of Contents

1.   General Books on the Solar System
2.   General Articles on the Solar System
3.   Books or Articles about Mercury
4.   Books or Articles about Venus
5.   Books or Articles about the Moon
6.   Observing the Moon Yourself
7.   Books or Articles about Mars
8.   Books or Articles about Jupiter
9.   Books or Articles about Saturn
10. Books or Articles about Uranus or Neptune
11. Books or Articles about the Satellites of the Outer Planets
12. Books or Articles about Pluto
13. Books and Articles on Meteors and Meteorites
14. Books or Articles about Asteroids
15. Books or Articles about Comets
16. Books or Articles about Cosmic Impacts
17. Books and Articles about the Search for Life in the Solar System
18. A Few Especially Useful Web Sites

General Books on the Solar System

Beatty, J. Kelly, et al., eds. The New Solar System, 4th ed. 1999, Sky Publishing/Cambridge U.Press. The definitive introduction to our current knowledge, with articles by top planetary scientists. Can be a bit technical in places.

Fraknoi, Andrew; Morrison, David; and Wolff, Sidney. Voyages To the Planets. 2000, Saunders College Publishing/ Harcourt Brace. A non-technical introductory textbook, with analogies and background material, about our solar system and planets around other stars.

Kluger, Jeffrey Journey Beyond Selene. 1999, Simon & Schuster. A journalist chronicles several lunar and planetary exploration missions, including Galileo.

Lewis, John Worlds Without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown. 1998, Perseus. A noted astronomer discusses how planets form and how the current appearance of the solar system (and other planetary systems) reflects their origins.

McNab, David & Younger, James The Planets. 1999, Yale U. Press. Overview of the solar system; accompanies a TV program.

Miller, Ron and Hartmann, William The Grand Tour: A Traveler' s Guide to the Solar System, 2nd ed. 1993, Workman. Lavishly illustrated beginners' primer.

Morrison, David Exploring Planetary Worlds. 1993, Scientific American Library/W. H. Freeman. Clear, up-to-date, non-technical survey.

Sagan, Carl Pale Blue Dot. 1994, Random House. An eloquent and impressive introduction to planetary exploration.

Taylor, Stuart Destiny or Chance: Our Solar System and Its Place in the Cosmos. 1998, Cambridge U. Press. A modern overview of how our system formed.

table of contents

General Articles on the Solar System

Hartmann, W. "The Great Solar System Revision" in Astronomy, Aug. 1998, p. 40. How our views have changed in the last 25 years.

Kross, J. "What' s in a Name" in Sky & Telescope, May 1995, p. 28. How worlds are named.

Wood, J. "Forging the Planets: The Origin of Our Solar System" in Sky & Telescope, Jan. 1999, p. 36. Good overview.

Yulsman, T. "From Pebbles to Planets" in Astronomy, Feb. 1998, p. 56. Comparing the origin of our system to others.

table of contents

Books or Articles about Mercury

Chapman, C. "Mercury's Heart of Iron" in Astronomy, Nov. 1988, p. 22. Good introduction.

Gingerich, O. "How Astronomers Finally Captured Mercury" in Sky & Telescope, Sep. 1983, p. 203. A history of early observations.

Nelson, R. "Mercury: The Forgotten Planet" in Scientific American, Nov. 1997, p. 56.

Strom, R. "Mercury: The Forgotten Planet" in Sky & Telescope, Sep. 1990, p. 256.

Strom, Robert Mercury: The Elusive Planet. 1987, Smithsonian Institution Press. Best book on the inner planet.

table of contents

Books or Articles about Venus

Cooper, Henry The Evening Star: Venus Observed. 1993, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Good primer on Venus exploration, with a focus on the Magellan mission.

Grinspoon, D. "Venus Unveiled" in Astronomy, May 1997, p. 44.

Grinspoon, David. Venus Unveiled. 1997, Addison-Wesley. Well-written introduction.

Kargel, J. "Rivers of Venus" in Sky & Telescope, Aug. 1997, p. 32. On lava channels.

Robinson, C. "Magellan Reveals Venus" in Astronomy, Feb. 1995, p. 32.

Stofan, E. "The New Face of Venus" in Sky & Telescope, Aug. 1993, p. 22.

table of contents

Books or Articles about the Moon

Foust, J. "NASA' s New Moon" in Sky & Telescope, Sep. 1998, p. 48. On results from the Lunar Prospector mission. (See also the Dec. 1998 issue, p. 32.)

Harland, D. Exploring the Moon: The Apollo Expeditions. 1999, Springer-Verlag. The work of the astronauts on the Moon in the context of what we now know about lunar geology.

Hockey, Thomas The Book of the Moon. 1986, Prentice Hall. A basic primer on many aspects of the Moon.

Jayawardhana, R. "Deconstructing the Moon" in Astronomy, Sep. 1998, p. 40. An update on the giant impact hypothesis for forming the Moon.

Ryder, G. "Apollo' s Gift: The Moon" in Astronomy, July 1994, p. 40. Good evolutionary history of the Moon.

Schmitt, H. "Exploring Taurus–Littrow: Apollo 17" in National Geographic, Sep. 1973. First-person account by the only scientist to walk on the Moon.

Spudis, P. "The Giant Holes of the Moon" in Astronomy, May 1996, p. 50. On the results of the Clementine mission. (See also reports in Sky & Telescope, July 1995, p. 32; Feb. 1997, p. 24.)

Taylor, G. "The Scientific Legacy of Apollo" in Scientific American, July 1994, p. 40.

table of contents

Observing the Moon for Yourself

Coco, M. "Staging a Moon Shot" in Astronomy, Aug. 1992, p. 62. How to photograph the Moon.

Kitt, M. The Moon: An Observing Guide for Backyard Telescopes. 1992, Kalmbach. Eighty-page illustrated primer for beginners.

MacRobert, A. "Close-up of an Alien World" in Sky & Telescope, July 1984, p. 29. An observing guide.

table of contents

Books or Articles about Mars

Bell, J. "Mars Pathfinder: Better Science?" in Sky & Telescope, July 1998, p. 36. Good review of mission results.

Golombeck, M. "The Mars Pathfinder Mission" in Scientific American, July 1998, p. 40. Good review by the mission' s chief scientist.

Hartmann, W. "Invading Martian Territory" in Astronomy, Apr. 1999, p. 46. Progress report on the Global Surveyor mission.

Kargel, J. and Strom, R. "The Ice Ages of Mars" in Astronomy, Dec. 1992, p. 40.

Malin, M. "Visions of Mars" in Sky & Telescope, Apr. 1999, p. 42. A geological tour of the red planet, with new Mars Global Surveyor images.

McKay, C. "Did Mars Once Have Oceans?" in Astronomy, Sep. 1993, p. 27.

Newcott, W. "Return to Mars" in National Geographic, Aug. 1998. Report on the Pathfinder mission with great color images, some in 3-D.

Raeburn, P. Uncovering the Secrets of the Red Planet. 1998, National Geographic Society. Beautiful coffee-table book with the Pathfinder images and results.

Robinson, M. "Surveying Scars of Ancient Martian Floods" in Astronomy, Oct. 1989, p. 38.

Wilford, J. Mars Beckons. 1990, Random House. A New York Times reporter looks at Mars past, present, and future.

See the section on the search for life in the solar system for articles about meteorites from Mars.

table of contents

Books or Articles about Jupiter

Beatty, J. "Into the Giant" in Sky & Telescope, Apr. 1996, p. 20. On the Galileo probe.

Beebe, R. Jupiter: The Giant Planet. 1994, Smithsonian Institution Press. Clear, nontechnical summary.

Beebe, R. "Queen of the Giant Storms" in Sky & Telescope, Oct. 1990, p. 359. Excellent review of the Red Spot.

Gore, R. "Voyager Views Jupiter" in National Geographic, Jan. 1980. Illustrated report on the Voyager flyby.

Smith, B. "Voyage of the Century" in National Geographic, Aug. 1990, p. 48. Beautiful summary of the Voyager mission to all four outer planets.

table of contents

Books or Articles about Saturn

Gore, R. "The Riddle of the Rings" in National Geographic, July 1981. Colorful report on the Voyager mission.

O' Meara, S. "Saturn' s White Spot Spectacular" in Sky & Telescope, Feb. 1991, p. 144. On Hubble observations of a giant storm.

Rogan, J. "Bound for the Ringed Planet" in Astronomy, Nov. 1997, p. 36. On the upcoming Cassini mission.

Washburn, M. Distant Encounters. 1983, Harcourt Brace. A science reporter covers the Voyager flyby's.

table of contents

Books or Articles about Uranus and Neptune

Burgess, Eric Far Encounter: The Neptune System. 1992, Columbia U. Press. Survey of Voyager flyby by a veteran science journalist.

Dowling, T. "Big, Blue: The Twin Worlds of Uranus and Neptune" in Astronomy, Oct. 1990, p. 42. Nice long review of the two planets.

Elliot, J. et al. "Discovering the Rings of Uranus" in Sky & Telescope, June 1977, p. 412.

Gore, R. "Neptune: Voyager' s Last Picture Show" in National Geographic, Aug. 1990, p. 35.

Littmann, Mark Planets Beyond: Discovering the Outer Solar System, 2nd ed. 1989, J. Wiley. Good introduction to Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

Lunine, J. "Neptune at 150" in Sky & Telescope, Sep. 1996, p. 38. Nice review.

Miner, Ellis Uranus. 1990, Ellis Horwood/Simon and Schuster. Definitive introduction to the planet.

table of contents

Books or Articles about the Satellites of the Outer Planets

Carroll, M. "Europa: Distant Ocean, Hidden Life?" in Sky & Telescope, Dec. 1997, p. 50.

Croswell, K. "The Titan-Triton Connection" in Astronomy, Apr. 1993, p. 26.

Elliot, J. "The Warming Wisps of Triton" in Sky & Telescope, Feb. 1999, p. 42.

Hartmann, W. "View from Io" in Astronomy, May 1981, p. 17.

Johnson, T. "The Galileo Mission to Jupiter and its Moons" in Scientific American, Feb. 2000, p. 40. Nice overview of new discoveries about each of the main moons except Europa.

Johnson, T. et al. "The Moons of Uranus" in Scientific American, Apr. 1987.

Milstein, M. "Diving into Europa' s Ocean" in Astronomy, Oct. 1997, p. 38.

Morrison, D. "An Enigma Called Io" in Sky & Telescope, Mar. 1985, p. 198.

Pappalardo, R., et al. "The Hidden Ocean of Europa" in Scientific American, Oct. 1999, p. 54.

Rothery, D. Satellites of the Outer Planets: Worlds in Their Own Right. 1992, Oxford U. Press.

Soderblom, L. & Johnson, T. "The Moons of Saturn" in Scientific American, Jan. 1982.

Talcott, R. "The Violent Volcanoes of Io" in Astronomy, May 1993, p. 41.

Talcott, R. "Jumping Jupiter" in Astronomy, June 1998, p. 40. On Galileo mission results.

table of contents

Books or Articles about Pluto

Beatty, J. "Pluto Reconsidered" in Sky & Telescope, May 1999, p. 48. Discussion of the controversy about whether Pluto should be regarded as a planet, and an update on what we know about the 9th planet.

Binzel, R. "Pluto" in Scientific American, June 1990.

Burnham, R. "At the Edge of Night: Pluto and Charon" in Astronomy, Jan. 1994, p. 41.

Graham, R. "Is Pluto a Planet?" in Astronomy, July 1999, p. 42. Another report on the controversy about how like other planets Pluto is.

Harrington, R. and Harrington, B. "The Discovery of Pluto' s Moon" in Mercury, Jan./Feb. 1979, p. 1.

Hoyt, W. Planets X and Pluto. 1980, U. of Arizona Press. Superb history of the search for Pluto and other outer planets.

Levy, David Clyde Tombaugh: Discoverer of Pluto. 1991, U. of Arizona Press.

Tombaugh, C. "The Discovery of Pluto" in Mercury, May/June 1986, p. 66, and Jul./Aug. 1986, p. 98.

table of contents

Books and Articles on Meteors and Meteorites

Chaikin, A. "A Stone' s Throw from the Planets" in Sky & Telescope, Feb. 1983, p. 122. Discusses meteorites from the Moon and Mars.

Dodd, R. Thunderstones and Shooting Stars: The Meaning of Meteorites. 1986, Harvard U. Press. A clear guide to the science of meteorites.

Litmann, Mark The Heavens on Fire. 1998, Cambridge U. Press. Best introduction to meteor showers in history and science.

Livermore, B. "Meteorites on Ice" in Astronomy, July 1999, p. 54. Finding them in Antarctica.

McSVeen, Harry Meteorites and Their Parent Planets. 1987, Cambridge U. Press. A good general introduction by a geologist.

Norton, O. Richard Rocks from Space, 2nd ed. 1998, Mountain Press Publishing. A guide for amateurs, with information on science, folklore, and collecting.

Sanderson, R. "The Night of Raining Fire" in Sky & Telescope, Nov. 1998, On the great meteor storm of 1833 (involving the Leonids.)

Schaefer, B. "Meteor[ite]s that Changed the World" in Sky &Telescope, Dec. 1998, p. 68. On famous cases, including Tukuska, Chicxulub, and and the Black Stone of the Kabaa.

Spratt, C. and Stephens, S. "Against All Odds: Meteorites That Have Struck [the Earth]" in Mercury, Mar./Apr. 1992, p. 50.

table of contents

Books or Articles about Asteroids

Binzel, R., et al. "The Origins of the Asteroids" in Scientific American, Oct. 1991, p. 88.

Burnham, R. "Here' s Looking at Ida" in Astronomy, Apr. 1994, p. 38.

Durda, D. "All in the Family" in Astronomy, Feb. 1993, p. 36. Discusses asteroid families.

Kowal, Charles Asteroids: Their Nature and Utilization, 2nd ed. 1996, John Wiley/Praxis. Introductory book by the astronomer who discovered Chiron.

Ostro, S. "Radar Reveals a Double Asteroid" in Astronomy, Apr. 1990, p. 38.

Talcott, R. "Galileo Views Gaspra" in Astronomy, Feb. 1992, p. 52.

Zimmerman, R. "Ice Cream Sundaes and Mashed Potatoes" in Astronomy, Feb. 1999, p. 54. On the NEAR mission.

table of contents

Books or Articles about Comets

Aguirre, E. "The Great Comet of 1997" in Sky & Telescope, July 1997, p. 50. On Comet Hale-Bopp.

Benningfield, D. "Where Do Comets Come From?" in Astronomy, Sep. 1990, p. 28.

Brandt, John and Chapman, Robert Rendezvous in Space. 1992, W. H. Freeman. Introduction by two leading comet experts.

Gore, R. "Halley' s Comet ' 86: Much More Than Met the Eye" in National Geographic, Dec. 1986, p. 758. (Also the March 1987 issue of Sky & Telescope was devoted to what we learned from Halley' s Comet in 1986.)

Levy, D. The Quest for Comets. 1994, Plenum Press. Personal story of comet discovery and comet science by an amateur astronomer who has found many comets. (See also his Comets: Creators and Destroyers. 1998, Simon & Schuster. On what we can learn from studying comets.)

Newcott, W. "The Age of Comets" in National Geographic, Dec. 1997, p. 94. Good introduction with beautiful photos.

Sagan, Carl and Druyan, Anne Comet. 1986, Random House. Very good presentation of historical material and human connections.

Spencer, John and Mitton, Jacqueline, eds. The Great Comet Crash: The Collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter. 1995, Cambridge U. Press. Good, non-technical summary.

Weissman, P. "Comets at the Solar System' s Edge" in Sky & Telescope, Jan. 1993, p. 26.

Weissman, P. "The Oort Cloud" in Scientific American, Sep. 1998, p. 84.

table of contents

Books or Articles about Cosmic Impacts

Chyba, C. "Death from The Sky: Tunguska" in Astronomy, Dec. 1993, p. 38. Excellent review article. (See also: Gallant, R. "Journey to Tunguska" in Sky & Telescope, June 1994, p. 38.)

Lewis, John Rain of Fire and Ice: The Very Real Threat of Comet and Asteroid Bombardment. 1995, Addison-Wesley. Good overview of impacts.

McFadden, L. and Chapman, C. "Near-Earth Objects: Interplanetary Fugitives" in Astronomy, Aug. 1992, p. 30.

Morrison, D. & Chapman, C. "Target Earth: It Will Happen" in Sky & Telescope, Mar. 1990, p. 261. (See an updated version in Astronomy, Oct. 1995, p. 34.)

Morrison, D. "The Spaceguard Survey: Protecting the Earth from Cosmic Impacts" in Mercury, Sep./Oct. 1992, p. 103.

Ortega, T. "Comet Stalker" in Astronomy, Apr. 1999, p. 58. Profile of astronomer Tom Gehrels and his work in finding earth-crossing asteroids and comets.

Sagan, C. Pale Blue Dot. 1994, Random House. Chapter 18 is about impacts and how we might respond to the danger.

table of contents

Books and Articles about the Search for Life in the Solar System

Achenbach, J. "Life Beyond Earth" in National Geographic, Jan. 2000, p. 24. Discussion of many themes, from science to science fiction, but with good information.

Bernstein, M., et al. "Life' s Far-flung Raw Materials" in Scientific American, July 1999, p. 42. On the discovery of organic materials in the gas and dust among the stars, and in comets.

Jakosky, Bruce The Search for Life On Other Planets. 1998, Cambridge U. Press. Clear introduction by a leader in the field.

Kerr, R. "Requiem for Life on Mars? Support for Microbes [in Meteorites] Fades" in Science, vol. 282, p. 1398 (20 Nov. 1998).

Taylor, Michael Dark Life: Martian Nanobacteria, Rock Eating Cave Bugs, and Other Extreme Organisms of Inner Earth and Outer Space. 1999, Scribners. Good behind-the-scenes discussion of the controversy surrounding the meteorites from Mars.

Treiman, A. "Microbes in a Martian Meteorite?" in Sky & Telescope, Apr. 1999, p. 52. An update on the rock from Mars.

table of contents

A Few Especially Useful Web Sites

The following sites contain a wealth of information, images, and links about each world:

The best images from recent NASA spacecraft can be found (and are well organized) at Planetary Photojournal

If you want to know how objects and features got their names, try: "The Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature"

A good review of American and Soviet moon exploration is at the "Exploring the Moon" site from NASA' s Johnson Space Flight Center

For a wealth of information, maps, and links about Mars, try the Center for Mars Exploration Home Page at NASA' s Ames Research Center

The latest information and images about Jupiter and its moons can be found at the Galileo Mission Site from the Jet Propulsion Lab

For a preview of the Cassini mission to Saturn and Titan, a good source is Voyage to Saturn

A lot of information and links about comets and meteor showers has been compiled by Gary Kronk. He includes lists of currently visible comets, sungrazing comets, periodic comets, and interesting comets of the past.

For more on cosmic impacts and how to guard the Earth against them, see the Asteroid and Comet Impact Hazards Page managed by Dr. David Morrison.

table of contents