The search for extraterrestrial life
The fascinating story of the birth of a new field of study and the human struggles that have accompanied it.
Astronomers are on the verge of answering one of the most profound questions ever asked: are we alone in the universe? The ability to detect life in remote solar systems is at last within sight. Its discovery, even if only in microbial form, would revolutionize our self-image. Planet Hunters by Lucas Ellerbroek helps us to prepare for such a paradigm shift.
For centuries it has been impossible to tell whether or not our solar system is unique. Since 1995, however, astronomers have discovered more and more planets orbiting stars other than our sun, known as exoplanets. The latest results of NASA’s Kepler space telescope tell us that Earthlike planets are plentiful, and future giant telescopes, whether in space or on the ground, will be able to detect ‘biosignatures’ in their atmospheres, molecules that betray biological activity on their surfaces.
Ellerbroek describes the search for extraterrestrial life in its proper historical perspective, making this a book that will retain its value for years to come.
A European author, he takes an international approach that is sometimes lacking
in American books on the subject. He is part of a Continental tradition that includes early ideas about extraterrestrial life by Giordano Bruno, mathematical studies by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens, and the very first discovery of an exoplanet by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz.
As its title suggests, Planet Hunters is as much about the people behind the discoveries as it is about extraterrestrial life. Ellerbroek has travelled the world to talk to leading scientists in the field, including Principal Investigator for NASA’s Kepler mission Bill Borucki, astrobiologist Sara Seager and radio astronomer Jill Tarter, one of the pioneers of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). Their passion and perseverance make for an exciting and compelling read.
Ellerbroek is a natural storyteller. A professional astronomer with broad educational experience, he takes readers on a fantastic voyage through space, time, history and the future. Planet Hunters is a delightful mixture of stories about smart-alec nerds, the search for extraterrestrial life and the history of an academic discipline.