Worlds without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown

Worlds without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown

Worlds without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown

Worlds without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown

Synopsis

The most exciting new discovery in modern astronomy must surely be the detection of planets orbiting distant stars; but what kinds of worlds these new planets are is yet to be determined with certainty. In this imaginatively written yet solidly scientific work, planetary scientist John S. Lewis explains how planets form, what they are made of, and how scientists know about both the planets in our solar system and those orbiting distant suns.

Excerpt

Perhaps the most exciting legacy of scientific research in this decade is the discovery of dozens of planets revolving about other stars. the fact of their existence has begun to sink in; their implications for life and intelligence have scarcely been explored. But at last we know the truth: as a few visionaries long ago anticipated, our Solar System is not alone.

Philosophers, both natural and unnatural, have speculated endlessly since ancient times about whether other worlds exist, how common they might be, whether they are "like Earth," how "Earthlike" they need to be to allow the origin of life, whether they might in fact harbor life, and whether advanced, intelligent life forms (i.e., similar to human philosophers) might be found on them. Some religions have formed powerful, deeply entrenched beliefs with respect to these questions, some of them even based on Scripture. Most answers and predictions, especially, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, seem more firmly linked to speculation than to higher authority, although there are interesting exceptions. Beginning with the Greeks, another class of speculation, loosely termed science fiction, has also suggested a wide range of answers.

Fortunately, in recent years, both observation and theory have come to our aid, reducing the need for speculation, although not doing away with it altogether. in the twentieth century, astronomical and spacecraft explorations of the heavens have begun to answer many of these great questions. in our search for answers, we shall embark first on a Grand Tour of the Solar System, seeing with our own eyes the great variety of planetary bodies in our backyard. the chances of finding more planets in our Solar System are slim, but the ones we know about are provocative enough. As we compare these bodies with one another, certain systematic trends . . .

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