Rock Star

Richard Greenberg reviews The Rock from Mars: A Detective Story on Two Planets by Kathy Sawyer, in American Scientist:

Fullimage_2006531125744_307When it comes to telling stories, science writers and scientists are at a disadvantage in that, unlike novelists (who are free to create their own reality), they must reconstruct events accurately. But once in a great while, science offers up a tale as compelling as any found in fiction and someone comes along who is equipped to tell it well. In The Rock from Mars, journalist Kathy Sawyer realizes the full potential of a great science story in all its multidimensional complexity and richness.

The rock here is meteorite ALH84001, named for the place in Antarctica (Allan Hills) and the year (1984) it was found. Sawyer’s account encompasses the details of the rock’s discovery, the painstaking analysis that revealed its Martian origins, the surprising suggestion that it might contain evidence of past (fossil) life on Mars, the high-level political ramifications of that revelation, and the media frenzy and scientific firestorm that ensued. The book doesn’t focus exclusively on the hot topics of extraterrestrial life and the origin of life on Earth; Sawyer manages to work in crucial information on geology, planetary science, meteoritics, biochemistry, microbiology, geochemistry and microscopy.

More here.