Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life beyond Our Solar System

Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life beyond Our Solar System

Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life beyond Our Solar System

Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life beyond Our Solar System

Synopsis

Soon astronomers expect to find alien Earths by the dozens in orbit around distant suns. Before the decade is out, telltale signs that they harbor life may be found. If they are, the ramifications for all areas of human thought and endeavor--from religion and philosophy to art and biology--will be breathtaking. In Strange New Worlds, renowned astronomer Ray Jayawardhana brings news from the front lines of the epic quest to find planets--and alien life--beyond our solar system.


Only in the past fifteen years, after millennia of speculation, have astronomers begun to discover planets around other stars--hundreds in fact. But the hunt to find a true Earth-like world goes on. In this book, Jayawardhana vividly recounts the stories of the scientists and the remarkable breakthroughs that have ushered in this extraordinary age of exploration. He describes the latest findings--including his own--that are challenging our view of the cosmos and casting new light on the origins and evolution of planets and planetary systems. He reveals how technology is rapidly advancing to support direct observations of Jupiter-like gas giants and super-Earths--rocky planets with several times the mass of our own planet--and how astronomers use biomarkers to seek possible life on other worlds.



Strange New Worlds provides an insider's look at the cutting-edge science of today's planet hunters, our prospects for discovering alien life, and the debates and controversies at the forefront of extrasolar-planet research.

Excerpt

We are living in an extraordinary age of discovery. After millennia of musings and a century of false claims, astronomers have finally found definitive evidence of planets around stars other than the Sun. a mere twenty years ago, we knew of only one planetary system for sure—ours. Today we know of hundreds of others. What’s more, thanks to a suite of remarkable new instruments, we have peered into planetary birth sites and captured the first pictures of newborns. We have taken the temperature of extrasolar giant planets and espied water in their atmospheres. Numerous “superEarths” have been found already, and a true Earth twin might be revealed soon. It is still the early days of planet searches—the “bronze age” as one astronomer put it— but the discoveries have already surprised us and challenged our preconceptions many times over. What’s at stake is a true measure of our own place in the cosmos.

At the crux of the astronomers’ pursuit is one basic question: Is our solar system—with its mostly circular orbits, giant planets in the outer realms, and at least one warm, wet, rocky world teeming with life—the exception or the norm? It is an important question for every one of us, not just for scientists. Astronomers expect . . .

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