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Other worlds;Subject of the week;Reference books

EMPIRE OF THE SUN. By John Gribbin and Simon Goodwin. Constable pound;15.99.

GUIDE TO SPACE. By Peter Bond. Dorling Kindersley pound;12.99.

To children now at school, the planets and moons of the solar system are familiar objects of which maps and detailed photographs exist. We know that Europa, a satellite of Jupiter discovered by Galileo, has watery oceans that may contain life, or that Venus and Mars have been geologically active, like the Earth.

By contrast, anyone whose memory runs back a few decades will recall the time when these worlds were pretty much just lights in the sky about which only the most basic data was known for sure. Both types of reader can gain a lot from these two books.

John Gribbin and Simon Goodwin's look at the solar system has a simple format in which a stunning image - perhaps of a Venusian volcano, or the crater fields of Mercury - makes up the right-hand page, with an accessible explanation facing it. Well worthwhile for secondary school use and upwards, although there could have been more on comets and other small objects in the solar system.

For a quiz test, try plate 17 - most people will assume it is Venus but it is the Earth as seen from the space shuttle.

Peter Bond's book covers a lot of ground. Telescopes and spacecraft, spaceflight and space stations, the solar system, the birth and death of stars, galaxies, the origin of the Uni-verse and the search for extra-terrestrial life all get a look in. The pictures are stunning and even young children will get something out of it with help.

Hard times: French wall painting showing a victim of the Black Death being taken for burial, from 'The Cassell Atlas of the Medieval World'

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