David M Raup

The nemesis affair

It is now accepted that there was a massive meteorite impact about 65 million years ago which was, at least partly, responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs. In The Nemesis Affair: A Story of the Death of Dinosaurs and the Ways of Science , David M Raup describes the more controversial idea that extinction events occur regularly, every 26 to 30 million years.

Raup starts by explaning the history of the catastrophism vs uniformarianism debate and why such catastrophic explanations of extinctions tend to be unpopular. He goes on to survey the evidence for a meteorite killing off the dinosaurs, and then describes his involvement in developing the theory of periodic extinctions, and the idea of the 'death star', Nemesis, which orbits the sun and every 26 million years leads to the bombardment of the inner solar system with comets. Raup also discusses how such a controversial idea was received in the scientific community, and so gives a glimpse into the inner workings of science.

The main action in the book took place over 25 years ago, and I felt that this meant that it was rather dated. It was updated in 1999, but this was only the addition of half a dozen pages at the end, and didn't address questions which I would like answered, such as 'what should astronomers be looking for if they want to find Nemesis?'. The book is of interest from a history and philosophy of science point of view, but if you want to know about whether such a star is likely to be there then I would look for something more up to date.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 240 pages  
ISBN: 0393319180
Salesrank: 1890426
Published: 1999 W. W. Norton & Company
Amazon price $8.11
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 240 pages  
ISBN: 0393319180
Salesrank: 1673792
Weight:0.5 lbs
Published: 2000 W. W. Norton & Company
Amazon price £10.99
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Paperback 240 pages  
ISBN: 0393319180
Salesrank: 826358
Weight:0.5 lbs
Published: 1999 WW Norton
Amazon price CDN$ 18.50
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 5.21:Used from CDN$ 0.01
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Product Description

"David Raup is, to put it baldly and justly, the world's most brilliant paleontologist."-Stephen Jay Gould

Nemesis is the name given by scientists to a (theoretical) small companion star to our sun. Every 26 million years, Nemesis's orbit brings it close enough to the sun to bombard our solar system with billions of comets. While most of the comets will float harmlessly beyond the outer planets, some passing through the sun's Oort Cloud will be deflected by its gravitational force toward Earth. Such a "large-body impact," the Nemesis theory holds, was responsible for the mass extinction that led to the demise of the dinosaurs. The next impact, millions of years from now, might very well extinguish humanity. In this lively, fascinating, and often disturbing book, updated and revised with the latest scientific evidence on terrestrial impacts, David M. Raup re-explores the controversies of the Nemesis theory from the trenches of the scientific community, and investigates the issues-both scientific and philosophical-of mass extinction. "A fascinating insider's view of scientists at work-and at odds-on the issues of extinction, evolution, and the fate of dinosaurs."-John Noble Wilford