The Pioneer Detectives

Keeping this one short, as befits a short e-book. I read this while waiting for an interminably delayed flight to take off from San Diego International Airport, fully expecting to have to give up on it after a bit and seek lighter reading. To my surprise, I found myself engrossed, and quickly at that.

The Anomaly (with a capital A, it was that Anomalous) was simple: the Pioneer spacecraft had been found to be accelerating just slightly faster than predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The book is the story of the Anomaly and the people surrounding it: how it was discovered, how it shaped careers and lives and how, anticlimactically, it was ultimately resolved by building an elaborate thermal model of the spacecraft that showed that the Anomaly arose from the fact that one side of the Pioneer probe was slightly hotter than the other.

Kakaes has a firm grasp of the science, exhibited through lucid, easy to follow explanations woven in throughout the book. However, what really brings The Pioneer Detectives to life is the fact that Kakaes is equally gifted at telling the stories of the people whose lives the Anomaly touched. Perhaps the one flaw of the book is that it left me asking for more, disappointed with the conclusion; in the real world, it turns out, stories often conclude in a less-than-poetic way. (But of course, this is arguably the world’s, and not the book’s fault.)

I give this book: 5 out of 5 rotating space probes


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