Marcia Bartusiak: Dispatches from Planet 3

For this column, NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here.

Publication of NASW members’ reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW’s endorsement of their books. NASW welcomes your comments, and hopes this column stimulates productive discussions.


Cover: Dispatches

Cover: Dispatches

DISPATCHES FROM PLANET 3:
THIRTY-TWO (BRIEF) TALES ON THE SOLAR SYSTEM,
THE MILKY WAY, AND BEYOND

Marcia Bartusiak
Yale University Press, September 18, 2018, $26.00
ISBN-10: 0300235747; ISBN-13: 978-0300235746

Bartusiak reports:

For the last several years I've had the pleasure of writing a column for Natural History magazine that combined my loves for both the cutting edge of astrophysics with the history of astronomy. I'd take a current discovery and dip into the archives to provide its backstory. The controversial demotion of Pluto, for example, reminded me of when another solar system member was similarly downgraded in the 19th century.

Marcia Bartusiak

Marcia Bartusiak

My armchair investigations whisked me off in spirit to exotic locales: from ancient Mars, when liquid water once flowed freely on its surface, to the tiniest speck of cosmic real estate, where space and time allegedly come unglued and start to wink in and out of existence in a probabilistic froth. Dispatches from Planet 3 now puts all these stories in one place, each chapter standing alone to allow the reader to wander from our solar system out to the Big Bang.

My biggest thrill while assembling the book was finding the appreciable number of women I had portrayed over the years. It was not a conscious effort. I always let the latest news set my agenda and, lo and behold, there they were: Vera Rubin brings dark matter to the forefront of astronomical concerns; Jocelyn Bell keenly spots a bizarre new star; Henrietta Leavitt ingeniously devises a revolutionary cosmic yardstick; Jane Luu co-discovers the first solar-system object beyond Neptune and Pluto; Beatrice Tinsley proves that galaxies evolve; Cecilia Payne tries to reveal the universe’s major elemental ingredient (until told to ignore it); and Margaret Burbidge contributes the observational proof that the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood, and the oxygen we breathe came from the ashes of ancient stars. Many of these names are not found in textbooks, so it was gratifying to bring them into the spotlight with my seventh book, but first collection of essays.

This book almost was not published; both agents and editors told me at first that anthologies were passé. I have to thank Neil deGrasse Tyson's wildly successful Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (also a collection of Natural History columns) for re-energizing the genre.

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