In a series of 20 essays detailing cutting-edge scientific data and theories, renowned researchers expound on the possibility—or probability?—of extraterrestrial intelligence.
In February 2017, NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting a single star, three of which are located in the habitable or so-called “Goldilocks Zone,” meaning their atmospheres are more likely to host life. Located a mere 40 light-years from Earth, these planets especially excited scientists because they are near enough to study using high-tech space telescopes. This means that humanity may have an opportunity to confirm or deny our sole existence in the universe—a proposition that, based on the number of planets and stars in our galaxy alone, seems unlikely. Yet no experiment has produced even a shred of evidence of any other life form (that we can detect). In this superb collection of essays, editor al-Khalili (Theoretical Physics/Univ. of Surrey; Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics, 2012, etc.) assembles some of the most brilliant minds in astrophysics, cosmology, genetics, biochemistry, and other fields to provide lay readers with a comprehensive look at the search for life on other planets. From new technologies in spectroscopy to the much-anticipated James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2018, there are many ways in which researchers have their eyes to the deep skies. Equally fascinating are the different perspectives regarding how such life could arise: are carbon and liquid water integral? How might plate tectonics play a role? Could quantum mechanics explain how life emerged on Earth, and could it do so elsewhere? Each essay offers a unique take on these and myriad other probing questions, and as al-Khalili writes in his introduction, “thinking about extraterrestrials has led us to ask, and even begin to answer, some of the most profound questions about our own existence.” The contributors include Martin Rees, Ian Stewart, and Monica Grady.
An incisive and fun collection packed with mind-expanding ideas about our universe and ourselves.