Thursday, February 3, 2022

Greg Brennecka's "Impact"

Greg Brennecka is a staff scientist and cosmochemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. After his doctoral work at Arizona State University, he received the prestigious Sofja Kovalevskaja fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to study the early Solar System at the Institute for Planetology in M√ľnster, Germany, where he led the “Solar System Forensics” group for five years. Brennecka's research has appeared in Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. He lives in the Livermore Valley wine country and fully enjoys the local flavors.

Brennecka applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Impact: How Rocks from Space Led to Life, Culture, and Donkey Kong, and reported the following:
The focus of page 99 in Impact, and the chapter page 99 is part of, explores how most of “learned academia” in the late 1700s viewed rocks falling from the sky—[from page 99 of the book] "either completely ignored or cast away as senseless stories from attention-seeking simpletons with a flair for the dramatic.” While the great scientific mind of Aristotle set us on an incorrect path about the source of falling stones, many scientific heavyweights such as Sir Isaac Newton and Antoine Lavoisier reaffirmed those incorrect ideas. It took a handful of careful individuals, and some well-timed meteorite falls at the turn into the 19th century to convince “experts” that rocks could come from outer space and land on Earth.

I feel the test works for my book…on page 99 there are quotes from skeptical scientists at the time mixed in with mildly snarky commentary from yours truly, which is a reasonable summation of at least this section of the book.

Beyond the scientific debate about the source of meteorites that comically rages on page 99, Impact in general discusses the importance of meteorites on Earth as a planet as well as its human inhabitants. It is hard to imagine an Earth without the influence of meteorites…what would Earth be like without the Moon, or biology? What would humanity be like without electronics? What would Christianity or Islam be like without cosmic intervention? Sure, the dinosaurs were killed off by a meteorite setting the stage for mammals to take over the planet, but neither dinosaurs nor mammals would have existed in the first place if rocks from space pelting Earth hadn’t made it possible. My goal with Impact is to expose as many people as possible to the interesting and important history of meteorites on our planet. This includes how meteorites have influenced us, in raw materials, historical influence, and scientific discovery—and I try to do this through entertaining stories, poorly drawn figures, and a sense of humor.
Follow Greg Brennecka on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue