© 2011

Drifting on Alien Winds

Exploring the Skies and Weather of Other Worlds


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiii
  2. Starting Here and Getting There

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Michael Carroll
      Pages 2-20
    3. Michael Carroll
      Pages 42-64
    4. Michael Carroll
      Pages 66-86
  3. The Forecast: Clearing with Scattered Ammonia Showers by Morning

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 87-87
    2. Michael Carroll
      Pages 88-105
    3. Michael Carroll
      Pages 106-126
    4. Michael Carroll
      Pages 128-142
    5. Michael Carroll
      Pages 144-171
    6. Michael Carroll
      Pages 172-195
  4. Future Explorers

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 197-197
    2. Michael Carroll
      Pages 216-221
  5. Back Matter
    Pages 223-238

About this book


Drifting on Alien Winds explores the bizarre weather of alien worlds, from the blistering hurricane-force winds of Venus to the gentle methane rain showers of Saturn's giant moon Titan. Blinding bolts of lightning sizzle through Jupiter's skies, ammonia blizzards swirl through Saturnian clouds, and Earth-sized cyclones pinwheel across Uranus and Neptune. Late-breaking scientific discoveries from spacecraft, observatories, and laboratories reveal the mysteries of weather across the Solar System. Our knowledge of weather on other worlds has not come easily. Drifting on Alien Winds introduces the inventors, engineers, and scientists who struggled to launch the first probes that would help us to understand the atmospheres of other worlds. The untold stories of early engineering feats and failures, from small Soviet Venus balloons to advanced studies of blimps and airplanes for Mars and Titan, are showcased here, along with what we’ve learned and are still trying to learn about alien skies. Some of today’s most creative and scientifically feasible ideas for voyaging through distant skies are presented. With spectacular spacecraft images and stunning original paintings by the author, Drifting on Alien Winds is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind.


Montgolfier balloon Physical features of planets Space balloon projects atmospheric probes extraterrestrial weather planetary atmospheres planetary balloon systems study of meteorology

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.LittletonUSA

About the authors

Science journalist, writer, and artist Michael Carroll has been looking at the clouds for half a century. His 25 years as a science writer have afforded him the opportunity to work with many in the planetary science community, with contacts spanning from government research facilities to universities to aerospace corporations. Aerospace runs in his family; his father was an aerodynamic engineer for Martin Marietta, and his grandfather was both a general in the U. S. Air Force and a personal friend of Orville Wright. Carroll is a Fellow of the International Association for the Astronomical Arts, and has written articles and books on topics ranging from space to archaeology. His articles have appeared in Popular Science, Astronomy, Sky & Telescope, Astronomy Now (UK), and a host of children’s magazines. His earlier book for Springer is The Seventh Landing, an exploration of our plans to return to the Moon. Carroll's twenty-some titles also include Alien Volcanoes (Johns Hopkins University Press), Space Art (Watson Guptill/Random House), and the children's book I Love God's Green Earth(Tyndale). Carroll has done commissioned artwork for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His art has appeared in several hundred magazines throughout the world, including National Geographic, Time, Scientific American, Smithsonian, Astronomy, Sky and Telescope, Ciel et Espace, and others. One of his paintings is on the surface of Mars – in digital form – on the deck of the Phoenix Lander, and another was flown aboard Russia’s MIR space station. Carroll is the 2006 recipient of the Lucien Rudaux Award for lifetime achievement in the Astronomical Arts. He lives with his artist/sometimes-coauthor wife, Caroline, in Littleton, Colorado.

Bibliographic information


From the reviews:

“A very respectable science reference book, a book of very, very pretty pictures, with captions … . very useful and informed reference book, packed with science and stories, tales of triumph and failure, and as many questions as answers. … this is a fantastic book, much more than people will expect it to be when they first hear about it or see it advertised. It’s not simply a book of or about space art; it chronicles the past, present and future of space exploration.” (Cumbrian Sky, May, 2011)

“Drifting on Alien Winds is as much about what we don’t know about weather as what we do. … It was an interesting book filled with much technical information about weather that was written in an easily understandable manner with pictures … of technicians handling the Galileo probe to the wonderous artist rendering of nights on Saturn. I enjoyed reading the book … . It is a book that will make you think and keep you coming back for more.” (James Wedge, Goodreads, 2011)

“All the sensible atmospheres and their phenomena are described and explained in the clear, concise language … . Nowhere else will you find such kaleidoscopic coverage of atmospheres, from the hell-hole of Venus to the blue orb of Neptune. … This book is a delight just for the fascinating facts in the text, but at the same time enlightens our understanding and intrigues our interest with the abundant colorful photos and art work.” (ComMarBen, Goodreads, 2011)

“Mike Carroll’s ‘Drifting on Alien Winds’ is a sweeping survey of planetary exploration past, present and future. The book is a delightfully stunning combination of hard science, informed speculation, and breathtaking art. I’ve spent more than 30 years in the ‘space biz’ and I learned a lot from this beautiful book.” (K. Jeff, Goodreads, 2011)

“Both easy to understand and enjoyable to read while covering some often-complex subjects, this is an outstanding book. … Carroll tours the reader through Earth’s atmosphere and out into our solar system. … Highly recommended for those who want to know what humans can achieve when we turn our curiosity to exploration and understanding. The illustrations are also beautiful and informative.” (Goodreads, 2011)

“A useful reference book on the composition and atmospheres of other planets. … pictures are in fact photographic images from NASA and other sources; but they are still useful and valuable complements to the artist’s visualisations. … Overall, I recommend this book to all who are interested in planetary astronomy, in the past, present and future of space exploration, and in knowing more about our neighbouring worlds.” (David A. Hardy, Goodreads, 2011)

“Carroll’s latest book, Drifting on Alien Winds; Exploring the Skies and Weather of Other Worlds published by Springer Books, combines his art and interest in space to bring the reader a fascinating insight into the weather systems and atmospheres of the Planets and Satellites of our Solar System.” (Paul Rumsby, Best Astronomy Books, September, 2011)

“An original and fact-filled look at atmospheres of other worlds – and how scientists and engineers are taking on the challenge of riding through alien skies. The reader will find this distinctive book a marvelous and fun read – and handsomely illustrated, some of which come from Carroll himself. … This volume provides excellent tutorials on the science of planetary atmospheres and weather patterns of other planets and moons in our Solar System and how we learn about them.” (Leonard David, Space Coalition, November, 2011)

“Drifting On Alien Winds sets out to survey the remarkable climate and weather systems of the Solar System, and achieves its aim admirably. Its large-format pages are filled with detailed, thoroughly researched but approachable text, accompanied by copious illustrations that range from the latest space probe images, through archive material to the author’s own stunning artworks. Carroll divides his book into three broad sections. … A fascinating book for anyone interested in the Solar System’s wonderful weather.” (Giles Sparrow, Sky at Night Magazine, January, 2012)