The 50 Most Extreme Places in Our Solar System

By: David Baker and Todd Ratcliff
Published: 2010

About a decade ago I was listening to NPR during a long drive when they had an interview with the author of this book. Immediately hooked, I sat mesmerized as I learned about all the fascinating things in our solar system. Yes, I knew some of them, but definitely not all. From diamond hail on Uranus and Neptune to Eiffel tower-sized lightning strikes on Saturn this book offers a lot of interesting facts when looking for science and solar system information in an easy-to-read format.

To tell all the intriguing facts about our solar system, the authors have divided the book into 8 sections and categories, such as oceans or ‘wild, wild weather’ followed by fairly entertaining or eye-catching subsections, such as “Wildly Wicked Winds of Neptune”. While some may want to just read it straight through this format actually helps to lead you to the sections you might be more interested in reading. Want to learn about volcanoes that spew ice instead of fire? Then turn to the Coldest Volcanoes section. Each section is filled with several pictures and is only a few pages long, giving you the interesting information very quickly so that you don’t feel bogged down before getting to the parts you actually want to read. A glossary is also included at the end.

Interesting facts include:

  • Because Venus rotates so slowly a day in Venus can be longer than a year. Would make birthdays a bit tricky…
  • Mars has a canyon grander than the Grand Canyon – it is over 2400 miles long and 6 miles deep. Roughly San Francisco to DC.
  • Mercury is shrinking

Overall, a very enjoyable read where I learned a lot more than I thought I would going in. One of my best memories was showing the book to my then three-year-old nephew and telling him all about the stinky moon – IO, which fascinated him. He fell in love with it and asked if he could take it home and “read” it, where his mom told me he slept with it for several days.


The extreme events that we hear about daily—hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions—are extreme in purely human terms, in the devastation they do. But this book moves our understanding of the extreme into extraterrestrial dimensions and gives us an awe-inspiring sense of what our solar system at its utmost can do. Martian dust devils taller than Mount Everest. A hurricane that lasts over 340 years. Volcanoes with “lava” colder than Antarctica. Hail made of diamonds. Here, as the authors say, the “WOW” factor is restored to our understanding of scientific discovery, as we witness the grandeur and the weirdness that inspire researchers to dig deeper and go ever farther into the mysteries of the universe.

The 50 Most Extreme Places in Our Solar System combines a fascination with natural disasters and the mesmerizing allure of outer space to take readers on a journey that will forever change the way they view our solar system. Full of dazzling photographs from NASA’s most recent observations, this book explores extreme regions on Earth and beyond—giant turbulent storms, explosive volcanoes, and the possibility of life surviving in harsh conditions.

More than a collection of facts, the book conveys the dynamism of science as a process of exploration and discovery. As they amuse and entertain, David Baker and Todd Ratcliff, two experts in planetary science, highlight recent developments and unresolved mysteries and strive, at every turn, to answer that important scientific question: “Why?”

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