Life in the Universe
This pioneering book offers an exciting and rigorous introduction to a wide range of sciences, including astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, and cosmology. Life in the Universe captures the reader’s imagination by exploring fundamental pan-scientific questions, such as: "How did life begin on Earth?", "What are the most extreme forms of life currently known?", "How likely is life in our solar system and beyond?", and "What are the challenges of trying to colonize another planet?" The book motivates readers to develop an understanding of the nature and process of science through skillfull writing and a wealth of features. An award-winning author and contributor team spanning the sciences ensures that coverage is complete, authoritative, and accessible. Interdisciplinary coverage and a wealth of exciting topics engage non-science students, introduce them to a range of sciences, and motivate them to explore the nature of science itself. Readers interested in astronomy and life in the universe.
About the Author(s)
Jeffrey Bennett received a B.A. in biophysics from the University of California at San Diego in 1981 and a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Colorado in 1987. He currently spends most of his time as a teacher, speaker, and writer. He has taught extensively at all levels, including having founded and run a science summer school for elementary and middle school children. At the college level, he has taught more than 50 college courses in astronomy, physics, mathematics, and education. He served two years as a visiting senior scientist at NASA headquarters, where he helped create numerous programs for science education. He also proposed the idea for and helped develop the Voyage Scale Model Solar System, which opened in 2001 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Besides his astronomy textbooks, he has written college-level textbooks in astronomy, mathematics, and statistics, and a book for the general public, On the Cosmic Horizon (Addison-Wesley, 2001). He also recently completed his first children’s book, Max Goes to the Moon (Big Kid Science, 2003). When not working, he enjoys participating in masters swimming and in the daily adventures of life with his wife, Lisa, his children Grant and Brooke, and his dog, Max.
Seth Shostak earned his B.A. in physics from Princeton University (1965) and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology (1972). He is currently a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, where he helps press the search for intelligent cosmic company. For much of his career, Seth conducted radio astronomy research on galaxies and investigated the fact that these massive objects contain large amounts of unseen mass. He has worked at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute in Groningen, The Netherlands (where he learned to speak bad Dutch).
Seth also founded and ran a company that produced computer animation for television. He has written several hundred popular articles on various topics in astronomy, technology, film, and television, and teaches courses at the California Academy of Sciences and elsewhere. A frequent fixture on the lecture circuit, Seth gives approximately 70 talks annually at both educational and corporate institutions. He is a Distinguished Speaker for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a frequent commentator on astronomical matters for radio and television. His book Sharing the Universe (Berkeley Hills Books, 1998) details the rationale and expectations of the scientific search for intelligent life. When he’s not trying to track down the aliens, Seth can often be found in the darkroom, where he continues to hope that something interesting will develop.
Bruce Jakosky received his B.S. degree in geophysics and space physics from UCLA (1977) and his Ph.D. in planetary science and geophysics from the California Institute of Technology (1982). He has been at the University of Colorado in Boulder since 1982 and is now a Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in geology, planetary science, and astrobiology, and his research emphasizes planetary geology, the evolution of the surface and atmosphere of Mars, and the potential for life on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system. In addition, he is exploring the connections between society and science, especially astrobiology.Bruce has been involved in analysis of data from the Viking, Solar Mesosphere Explorer, Clementine, Mars Observer, Mars Global Surveyor, and Mars Odyssey spacecraft missions. He heads up the University of Colorado’s astrobiology program, which is a part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. He has served on numerous advisory committees within NASA and the National Research Council and has been editor or a member of the editorial board of a number of planetary science and astrobiology journals. He is a co-editor of the book Mars (Univ. Arizona Press, 1992), and author of the book The Search for Life on Other Planets (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998). He doesn’t really like gardening, but does it to keep his yard from becoming completely overgrown with weeds, and he appears to love flying judging by the amount of time he spends traveling to meetings.
A good college text for non-science majors, January 21, 2006
This book seems to have two goals. One is to teach the reader something about astrobiology. The other is to be a text for a science course for college undergraduates (in most cases, underclassmen majoring in something other than science).
The book begins by discussing how stars and planets are formed. And then comes a major point: biology may be common in the universe given evidence that organic molecules form fairly easily, life appears to have originated early in the Earth’s history, and there’s evidence that Earth life can survive under a wide range of conditions. Next, there’s a section on the nature of science and the scientific method. And then some material on the definition and nature of life. From there we go to the Earth’s geological record. And there’s a useful discussion of greenhouse gases, possible high surface temperatures on Earth when life first developed, and a possible "Snowball Earth" much later.
Now comes a key chapter: how did life get started? And when. The text shows that it was not all that long after the Earth emerged from forming and being heavily bombarded. And that hyperthermophiles may well have been the common ancestor of life on Earth today. The book speculates that the process was: synthesis of organic precursor molecules, development of replicators (RNA), development of protocells (enclosing membranes), primitive cells (the RNA world), and then DNA-based cells. It also addresses the question of whether life could have migrated to Earth from Mars or elsewhere. There’s a discussion of the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere. And how primitive life evolved into the intelligent life that now exists.
These are certainly the right topics to start with. But I wish this book, even with the constraint of being for non-science majors, had gone into just a little more detail on all of them. It does just that on the rest of the topics.
The book continues with an excellent section about possibilities of life elsewhere in our planetary system, including the environmental requirements. We look at Mars (including evidence from Martian meteorites), Jovian moons, and Titan. And we see why Venus is too close to the Sun to be in the "habitable zone." I hope that the next edition of this book, due out in 2006, will mention the Saturnian moon Enceledus as well.
After that, there is a discussion of extrasolar planets and the serach for extraterrestrial intelligence. If anything, there is an excess of material here, including speculations about the possible technology levels of an intelligent society and interstellar travel. But this does lead to a worthwhile discussion of the Fermi paradox: if there are relatively nearby extraterrestrials, why aren’t they here by now?
Writing an overview of this field for non-science majors is a daunting task, and I think the authors did a really good job. After reading such a book, I think one will find it much easier to understand any advances made in this field in the future.