Heavenly hot spots? Hot dog!

Worlds on Fire
March 10, 2006

This is not so much another book on volcanoes as a travel book with a difference - or rather an armchair volcanologist's reference book.

It begins conventionally enough - with the usual background introduction to plate tectonics and description of hot spots, mantle plumes and the like - and then it takes off into fantasy.

The reader is armed first with enough information on the types of volcanic rocks found on Earth and enough information about the sizes and shapes of volcanic formations to make sense of images and illustrations of features on the Moon, Mars, Venus and Io. This is a promising start, and although there are plenty of books providing itineraries for visiting volcanoes on Earth, this is the first one I have read that gives details of where to land and what to see and do at volcanic parks elsewhere.

The first tour on the Moon starts at what Charles Frankel suggests might one day be called the "Apollo 15 Historical Park", which would, by the time of our trip, be roped off to preserve the historic footprints of Dave Scot and Jim Irwin. The abandoned lunar rover and science station as well as the lunar module's descent stage would also be displayed. The visit is described in detail as we take an exploration rover to South George crater to a photo opportunity of Hadley Rille. Hot dog stands and souvenir shops are not mentioned, but they cannot be far away.

There are five itineraries for the Moon, each with the objective of solving a scientific puzzle still remaining, such as the origin of the craters in the lunar North Complex. The reader is promised the opportunity to collect a range of rock samples as souvenirs - obviously the regulations on removing rocks from extraterrestrial volcanic parks are much more liberal than at many sites on Earth.

From the Moon, we move to Mars and again begin with some background information on the history of volcanism, the search for life there and the findings of the various probes and landers to have visited the Red Planet.

There are five other itineraries for Mars and lots more samples to collect and date so that we can judge properly the size of individual eruptions from the giant volcanoes and how long the quiet intervals between them were.

The most exciting extraterrestrial volcanoes, because they are active right now, are those on Io, the innermost moon of Jupiter. They are described, and itineraries are developed with scientific objectives such as to collect recent rock samples to see whether, as suspected, some are komatiites, similar to the high-temperature primitive volcanic rocks found in South Africa (Earth) that erupted billions of years ago.

Finally, Frankel suggests we collect some Ionian jewellery before returning home - silver from Io. I wonder what the import duty at Earth customs control on that would be?

This is a fun book that would make a nice coffee-table addition were it not for the poor picture quality. Most images and photos are in black and white, and few have a scale, which makes them hard to interpret. A monochrome mock-up of astronauts in a lava tube is difficult to make out.

Similarly, a picture of yellow and orange sulphur at a terrestrial fumarole is shown and described, but a colour picture with a scale would have done the job much better. So, a nice book, but a shame about the images.

Hazel Rymer is senior lecturer in earth sciences, Open University.

Worlds on Fire: Volcanoes on the Earth, the Moon, Mars, Venus and Io

Author - Charles Frankel
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 358
Price - £25.00
ISBN - 0 521 80393 4

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