Other Worlds

OTHER WORLDS: THE SEARCH FOR LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE is a lively, journalistic account of developments in astronomy that suggest life exists beyond Earth. These developments include primarily the discovery of planets in other solar systems, evidence of living organisms found in a martian meteorite, and efforts to discover intelligible signals from distant cultures using radio telescopes. In each area, evidence for life seems ambiguous at best, and the positive findings have failed to convince some astronomers.

Michael D. Lemonick devotes the greater space in his text to the discovery of planets. Goeffrey Marcy and Paul Butler have put forward their evidence for planets in other solar systems, and other astronomers, applying their methods, have made additional discoveries. Given the mathematics of the universe, the existence of planets appears almost beyond question, and that some have a favorable environment for the development of life seems mathematically probable.

No one, however, has ever actually seen planets outside the solar system. Their existence has been established by mathematical calculations that measure their gravitational impact upon stars. Those that have been discovered are huge compared to planets in the familiar solar system. Lemonick explains that larger orbiting telescopes are being developed which should enable astronomers to view planets.

As for the search for life through giant radio telescopes, these studies have continued for decades in an effort to isolate radio signals from cultures in distant space. The search is limited to a special kind of technological culture; as of the late 1990’s it has produced no really credible evidence.

Lemonick writes popular science to a general audience and enlivens his account with conversations, descriptions of astronomical conventions, and anecdotes—but it remains science. Readers seeking science fiction fantasy involving UFO’s and space aliens will be disappointed.