Other Worlds: The Search For Life in the Universe

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9780684853130: Other Worlds: The Search For Life in the Universe

Are we, or are we not, alone?In this tour de force of popular science writing, Michael D. Lemonick describes the fascinating search to discover the answer this intriguing question. Recent events -- including speculation that life may have existed on Mars and the discovery that there are more planets outside our solar system than in it -- continually spur new theories and new investigations."Other Worlds" takes readers to Mauna Kea, where astronomers monitor the skies through powerful telescopes; to West Virginia, where radio antennas listen for alien broadcasts; and to meetings with NASA officials, who are forging new paths in the exploration of the cosmos. Featuring interviews with the scientists who are leading these breakthroughs, this astonishing book will captivate everyone from science-fiction buffs to serious science readers.

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Review:

The first planet around a sunlike star was finally detected in 1995, after decades of false alarms. It was inevitable that within a couple of years a flood of books on extrasolar planets would gush forth. Michael Lemonick is the senior science writer at Time magazine, and his account is the most readable and vivid yet. He has a fluid, anecdotal style, with a good ear for the sort of simile that really speaks to the average reader, as when he describes hooking up a radio telescope being like "setting up a new computer yourself. Sometimes it just plain doesn't work, and you can't for the life of you figure out why."

Lemonick structures Other Worlds around Geoff Marcy and Paul Butler, whose Extrasolar Planet Search Project at the University of California, San Francisco, is the most successful program so far, with six planet discoveries to its credit by the end of 1998. Lemonick's other touchstone is the Drake Equation, which he hyperbolically calls "the second most important equation of the century." If we could fit in values for the seven terms in this equation, we could say something sensible about the number of civilizations in the galaxy. So far, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has not come up with any actual data, but, as one researcher says, it's "the world's biggest carrot," and worth enduring a considerable number of sticks. --Mary Ellen Curtin

About the Author:

Michael D. Lemonick is the Senior Science Writer at Time and a two-time winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science-Westinghouse Science Writing Award. The author of The Light at the Edge of the Universe, he lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Michael D. Lemonick
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