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David M Raup

The nemesis affair

It is now accepted that there was a massive meteorite impact about 65 million years ago which was, at least partly, responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs. In The Nemesis Affair: A Story of the Death of Dinosaurs and the Ways of Science , David M Raup describes the more controversial idea that extinction events occur regularly, every 26 to 30 million years.

Raup starts by explaning the history of the catastrophism vs uniformarianism debate and why such catastrophic explanations of extinctions tend to be unpopular. He goes on to survey the evidence for a meteorite killing off the dinosaurs, and then describes his involvement in developing the theory of periodic extinctions, and the idea of the 'death star', Nemesis, which orbits the sun and every 26 million years leads to the bombardment of the inner solar system with comets. Raup also discusses how such a controversial idea was received in the scientific community, and so gives a glimpse into the inner workings of science.

The main action in the book took place over 25 years ago, and I felt that this meant that it was rather dated. It was updated in 1999, but this was only the addition of half a dozen pages at the end, and didn't address questions which I would like answered, such as 'what should astronomers be looking for if they want to find Nemesis?'. The book is of interest from a history and philosophy of science point of view, but if you want to know about whether such a star is likely to be there then I would look for something more up to date.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews