Book Review: Killer Rocks from Outer Space

Category: Children’s Book
Reviewed by: Marianne Dyson
Title: Killer Rocks from Outer Space: Asteroids, Comets, and Meteorites
Author: Steven N. Koppes
Ages: 9-12
NSS Amazon link for this book
Format: Hardcover (Library binding)
Pages: 112
Publisher: Lerner/First-Century Books
Date: 2003
Retail Price: $30.60
ISBN: 0822528614

I’ve discovered that a fast and efficient way to obtain a working knowledge of a subject is to read the children’s nonfiction books on that topic. So with a desire to learn more about planetary defense, I checked out Killer Rocks from Outer Space: Asteroids, Comets, and Meteorites from my local library. This excellent book covered everything from how to recognize a meteorite to the nature of the continuing threat of asteroids to life on Earth.

Targeted (sorry, couldn’t resist!) to middle-school readers, first-time author Steven Koppes lets facts (such as that the impact which formed Meteor Crater in Arizona generated hurricane-force winds for 12 miles) speak for themselves rather than adding unnecessary hype and sensationalism. The difference between evidence and interpretation of that evidence is maintained throughout the book, with solid scientific sources cited for all facts.

The clear explanations of how geologists distinguish impact craters from volcanic structures, including shatter cones, shocked quartz, and the formation of tektites, provided just the right level of knowledge without boring the reader with details and jargon found in adult sources on this topic. When new words or terms are used, they are first defined through comparison with familiar concepts. For example, before quantifying the force of impacts using atmospheric pressure units, those units are introduced using the example of water at different depths.

An incredible amount of information is packed into each of the seven chapters. The contents include: recognizing meteorites and impact craters; identifying impact scars; impact and dinosaurs; impact and periodic mass extinctions; impact, planets, and origin of life on Earth; continuing threat; and defending Planet Earth. Sidebars on Moon history, the geologic record, geologic time, early speculations about impact-extinction connections, and lunar impacts provide good bridge connections to other related space subjects. A map of impact sights around the world, a glossary, further reading, and index make this book a good addition to a space-interested student (or teacher) reference collection. The sturdy library binding raises the price of the book, but will also protect it against lots of impacts!

I highly recommend this book. Killer Rocks is a children’s book that isn’t just for kids. I’ve read a lot of books about asteroids, but this one was the most complete and also had some different and surprising information that hadn’t been covered in other books, e.g. that carbon found in the K-T boundary (associated with the dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago) is equal to 10 percent of all the world’s current plant and animal life. The author explains that this carbon is taken as evidence that fallout from the impact generated fires around the world. Scientists speculate that this led to the death of large plant-eating dinosaurs and their predators.

For adults or kids interested in planetary protection, asteroid impacts in the solar system, or prospecting for meteorites and tektites, Killer Rocks is sure to make a lasting “impression!”

© 2008 Marianne Dyson

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