Audio Book Review on Exoplanets

exoplanetsThe fall of 2017 is an exciting time for North American star-gazers: a full solar eclipse on August 21, a meeting of Venus and Jupiter on November 13, and an especially visible Geminid Meteor shower on December 13.  These events as well as continuous astronomical discoveries are drawing a great deal of attention from the general public.  Scientists catalog new planets and other space objects every day, and many are postulated to be suitable for the support of life.  Unfortunately, these exciting advancements are often shrouded in scientific jargon and advanced mathematics which make them effectively inaccessible to the average person. This new audiobook offers a concise overview of current scientific knowledge concerning these newest breakthroughs.

The first five chapters lay out the basics, including a discussion of the definition of a planet, current detection methods, and a chapter on the Kepler mission.  Chapters six through ten are speculative sketches of what five exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) are really like, imagining a close-up visit to each.  They include:

1) 55 Cancri E (“Diamond World”)

2) “Haven” – an imagined planet no longer orbiting a star

3) A Pluto-like “Ice-World”

4) Kepler 186f (“Archipelago World”)

5) Gliese 1214b (“Water World”)

These chapters are entertaining, speculative, and tempered by explicit caveats about how much we can really know and how much is educated guessing.  They are followed by a discussion of life on Earth and how it may have originated.  The final chapters cover the search for life, the search for intelligent life, and a concluding discussion of the Fermi Paradox.

The point that the authors, astronomer Michael Summers and physicist James Trefil, iterate again and again throughout the audio book is that scientists on Earth suffer from “the curse of the single example.”  Since we only truly know about how life developed and continues to survive on one planet, it is difficult to imagine it in any other way.  Perhaps life could form near deep-sea vents underneath an ice-world’s subsurface oceans.  It could be that life does not require the radiation of a star to thrive at all.  Life may not even need     to be carbon-based.  Scientists simply do not know!  However, as this audio book demonstrates, they continue to be surprised by new data gathered by space probes and telescopes.

This fascinating audio book provides the listener with a thorough overview of many current ideas accepted by the scientific community.  It is both a great place to start for those interested in in-depth study and the more casual astronomy hobbyist.   Come check it out for 21 days from the Audio Book section of the Bellevue University Library, and listen for yourself!

Originally posted in the Freeman/Lozier Library’s quarterly newsletter, More Than BooksV. 20 No. 4, Fall 2017.

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