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The Pioneer Detectives

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  432 ratings  ·  32 reviews
Explore one of the greatest scientific mysteries of our time, the Pioneer Anomaly: in the 1980s, NASA scientists detected an unknown force acting on the spacecraft Pioneer 10, the first man-made object to journey through the asteroid belt and study Jupiter, eventually leaving the solar system. No one seemed able to agree on a cause. (Dark matter? Tensor–vector–scalar gravi ...more
e-book, 65 pages
Published July 2013 by The Millions
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Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating look at the search to figure out why NASA's Pioneer probes accelerated very slightly slower than Einstein's theory of general relativity would predict, an effort spanning decades- nearly the entire careers of some of the scientists involved. The descriptions of the science were clear and easy to read, as were the struggles against outside forces like budgets and data preservation and the excitement of new equipment and techniques that could be applied to the problem, thing ...more
Dec 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Astronomy buffs
Recommended to Keeley by: Emily Yam
This is a quick and engaging popular-science book, recounting the history of a challenge to Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, which describes the workings of gravity. The challenge arose from anomalous data about the travels of the Pioneer 10 spacecraft. Kakaes lays out his tale with the clear language and assured pacing of an experienced journalist, and in many ways the book felt like a really good piece of long-form journalism (say from Slate or The Atlantic), without all the ads. In fa ...more
Oct 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
The Pioneer Detective is about a small group of scientist who discover an anomaly in some of the data with regard to the speed of travel of the Pioneer 10 & 11 satellites. Unless explained this data would call into questions Einstein's Theory of Space and Time.

This short work is the story of scientists investigated, theorized, and ultimately reconciled the data. A really interesting read that provides an example of how scientific theories come into being, how they are tested, and how dedicated
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 relat
Jason Kirk Review: Space exploration's disappointments sometimes yield more dramatic stories than other endeavors' great successes. Case in point: the mystery of Pioneer 10's stubborn refusal to adhere to its projected trajectory. Launched in 1972 and now quietly hurtling well beyond Neptune's orbit, Pioneer 10 drifted hundreds of thousands of miles off course. But why? Could some as yet undiscovered fundamental force have finally tipped its hand? As with most hopes and dreams, the promise of gr ...more
Sep 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Great science essay that explains a compelling mystery, clearly explains the science behind the investigation of the mystery, reveals the personalities of the scientists engaged in the mystery, and underscores the significance of the scientific method.

Though the mystery itself involves some complex theories about how gravity works (or doesn't), the writing here is always clear, and can be easily understood by anyone interested in the story. What makes this essay better than most is the time Kaka
Aug 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Pioneer space probes, launched in the early '70s, appeared to travel infinitesimally slower than Einstein's theory of general relativity would predict. Was this evidence that Einstein's theory was wrong? If not, what was causing this strange anomaly? Pioneer 11 surprisingly remained in communication with scientists on earth decades beyond its predicted death. Kakaes describes the painstaking efforts of dedicated scientists who accumulated and analyzed the sparse and often corrupt data sent f ...more
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: _science
A great book about science, research, and psychology. Quick read. Nothing technical. It's about several scientists' decades long dedication to finding the truth behind an anomaly in the trajectories of the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft - a mysterious, slight alteration in their expected course that challenged Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. The author tells a great story about a couple of scientist who tirelessly researched this issue, but also paints a great picture about the amazing Pi ...more
Dec 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fun little Kindle Single. A geek detective story. The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, the first spacecraft to visit Jupiter and Saturn now headed for the star Aldebaran that it will reach in 2 million years (if the Klingons don't blow it away first), began exhibiting some anomalous distance and velocity readings. For over a decade a few intrepid scientists at JPL, Ames Research Center, and a few volunteers worked to track down the source. With some hoping this might herald a flaw in Einstein's the ...more
Alexey Goldin
Feb 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a great story about scientists finding a small inconsistency in their measurements, doggedly pursuing it for decades, overcoming animosity from peers and bureaucracy and.... not ending up with great discovery. As it happens almost always. We do not often hear stories like this, usually we read only about happy endings, so we underappreciate scientists effort and sacrifice. Without thousands of not-so-happy endings like this we would not have happy endings like theory of relativity, Higgs ...more
Nov 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Good read if you like space and science. Be warned that the book is quite technical. While you dont need to know anything fancy, you need to have an appetite for some technical discussions.

The book is about an investigation into an unknown acceleration that was impacting Pioneer 10 and the story behind trying to decode it. The author gives a good background into the problem, and the people behind the investigation. The underlying theme of the book is a meta discussion on the scientific method a
Jan 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Peter Williams
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
I have ways had a childlike interest in space and although in no way do I profess to understand the nuances of the actual physical science discussed in this short informative book, Kakaes has written it in such a way that mere mortals can understand without dumbing down in the writing style and form. Basically a large journalistic piece in which the passion of the author is in no way hidden. A very interesting and at times mind blowing read when you try to comprehend the distances that this spac ...more
May 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to hate this book. The tabloid question that is its subtitle is really annoying. Spoiler alert, the answer is no, the Pioneer Anomaly does not prove Einstein and Newton wrong. It was explained away as a result of heat dispersion. The beginning of the book was full of tabloid nonsense, too, like calling gravity a mysterious force. I forgave Kakaes by the end of the book, which is wonderful and reads like poetry.
Matthew Peck
Aug 18, 2013 rated it liked it
A.K.A. 'Science Is Hard'. This 65-page article is not quite the mind-boggling/awe-inspiring popular science that I was hoping for, but it's a useful illustration of the tedium, frustration, and disappointment that are part of even the tiniest amount of scientific progress. The 'coda' chapter is unexpectedly haunting.
Sep 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Science enthusiasts will love this book! A very well written account of the investigation on the anomalies of the pioneer space probes. It's just amazing to read about how far these probes are and how faint the strength of their signal is by the time it reaches earth. It also gives us an insight on how scientific inquiry works in general to solve mysteries.
G Buzel
Dec 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book about this "anomaly" that has caused the pioneer space probe to accelerate.
Not too technical, and makes you think about how much we DO NOT really know about space and the universe.
Short quick one day read on the Kindle...
Erik Hanberg
Sep 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Impressive tale of a non-discovery. Good writing about a very scientific topic.
Kit Kemper
Sep 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good nerdy book for a quick read. A bit of a twist...
Sep 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Nice short read on some interesting space science. Not sure it required a nine-chapter treatment but I enjoyed reading it all the same.
Oct 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Highly technical discussion of the "Pioneer Anomaly" acceleration delta of Pioneer satellites. Read it only if you're a space-geek.
Oct 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
Great read. Very nerdy, but approachable. I love the enduring science project and commitment to the project by the leaders.
Justin Yost
Nov 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
Solid short read of the Pioneer anomaly that caused turmoil in the physics community for some time and how ultimately Einstein was right. A good read into how science works through puzzles.
Dec 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
excellent synopsis of the detective work needed using only raw data and a pile of luck.
Bcoghill Coghill
Jan 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Short, way to short. there so much more to know before I have even the general knowledge every person ought to know.
a very fine essay and a dip of toe into the fount of knowledge.
Rob Hermanowski
Feb 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, e-book
A short but good e-book, combining two subjects I've always been very interested in: space exploration and physics.
Apr 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
Interesting but not really gripping.
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is an absolute little gem if you're interested in astronomy/NASA/relativity etc. Very very neat.
Andrew Martin
Aug 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
wouldn't it be crazy if Einstein was wrong about gravity?!?

he wasn't. but if he was. man. that would be something.
Colin Buck
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Short, sweet, and to the point. Easily grasped and intriguing science writing.
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Konstantin Kakaes is a Bernard L. Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation, writing about science and technology, and is the former Mexico City bureau chief for The Economist. His work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, and The Washington Post and appears frequently in Slate. Before becoming a journalist, he studied physics at Harvard University. He lives in Washin ...more

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“Sometimes the gap between wrong and right is so negligible that we ignore it altogether. We pretend that the length of a day is 24 hours and that the ground beneath our feet is steady, when in fact the length of the day changes and Earth’s axis wobbles constantly as we hurtle around the sun at about 66,000 miles per hour and the sun moves around the center of the galaxy at about 500,000 miles per hour.” 2 likes
“The textbook version is simple: experimenters find out things in the world, either by seeing them or by making them happen. Theorists try to explain these things. And when an experiment produces results theories can’t explain, someone comes up with a better theory.” 0 likes
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