Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars

Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars


By (author) Lee Billings

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  • Publisher: Current
  • Format: Hardback | 294 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 231mm x 30mm | 499g
  • Publication date: 3 October 2013
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 1617230065
  • ISBN 13: 9781617230066
  • Sales rank: 107,053

Product description

An intimate history of Earth and the quest for life beyond the solar system For 4.6 billion years our living planet has been alone in a vast and silent universe. But soon, Earth's isolation could come to an end. Over the past two decades, astronomers have discovered thousands of planets orbiting other stars. Some of these exoplanets may be mirror images of our own world. And more are being found all the time. Yet as the pace of discovery quickens, an answer to the universe's greatest riddle still remains just out of reach: Is the great silence and emptiness of the cosmos a sign that we and our world are somehow singular, special, and profoundly alone, or does it just mean that we're looking for life in all the wrong places? As star-gazing scientists come closer to learning the truth, their insights are proving ever more crucial to understanding life's intricate mysteries and possibilities right here on Earth. Science journalist Lee Billings explores the past and future of the "exoplanet boom" through in-depth reporting and interviews with the astronomers and planetary scientists at its forefront. He recounts the stories behind their world-changing discoveries and captures the pivotal moments that drove them forward in their historic search for the first habitable planets beyond our solar system. Billings brings readers close to a wide range of fascinating characters, such as: FRANK DRAKE, a pioneer who has used the world's greatest radio telescopes to conduct the first searches for extraterrestrial intelligence and to transmit a message to the stars so powerful that it briefly outshone our Sun. JIM KASTING, a mild-mannered former NASA scientist whose research into the Earth's atmosphere and climate reveals the deepest foundations of life on our planet, foretells the end of life on Earth in the distant future, and guides the planet hunters in their search for alien life. SARA SEAGER, a visionary and iron-willed MIT professor who dreams of escaping the solar system and building the giant space telescopes required to discover and study life-bearing planets around hundreds of the Sun's neighboring stars. Through these and other captivating tales, Billings traces the triumphs, tragedies, and betrayals of the extraordinary men and women seeking life among the stars. In spite of insufficient funding, clashing opinions, and the failings of some of our world's most prominent and powerful scientific organizations, these planet hunters will not rest until they find the meaning of life in the infinite depths of space. Billings emphasizes that the heroic quest for other Earth-like planets is not only a scientific pursuit, but also a reflection of our own culture's timeless hopes and fears.

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Author information

Lee Billings is a science journalist whose work has appeared in "Nature," "New Scientist," "Popular Mechanics," and" Scientific American." He lives in New York. This is his first book.

Review quote

"Graceful... the best book I have read about exoplanets, and one of the few whose language approaches the grandeur of a quest that is practically as old as our genes." --"New York Times Book Review" "Will leave readers who aren't rocket scientists slack-jawed" --"New York Times "Newly Released" Column" "Lee Billings, an American science journalist, has written a definitive guide to astronomy's hottest field." --"The Economist" "This book is sweeping in scope, from the creation of the coal belts in Pennsylvania to the moving details of a single canoe trip across the Canadian wilderness. In these juxtapositions, Billings performs a brilliant sleight of hand...the ending is a poignant reminder that humankind may yet find a way to the stars, but people -- the ones we know, the ones we love, the ones we lose -- are our entire history and our full universe." --"The Washington Post" ..".the search for Earth-like worlds orbiting distant stars is just a step in the age-old quest to learn whether or not we are alone in the universe. In his compelling, wide-ranging survey, Billings steps back to look at this broader picture, largely through richly textured portraits of some of the giants of the field...[an] extraordinary tale of scientific discovery." --"Scientific American" "Science writer Lee Billings deftly captures both behind-the-scenes ructions and landmark discoveries in his tour of this multidisciplinary field, its history and its players. The seamlessly interwoven narrative is strong on big personalities, from astronomer Frank Drake, a pioneer of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) whose work is now overshadowed by glamorous finds in exoplanetary science, to astrophysicist Sara Seager, a scintillating star in that very field." - "Nature" journal "Fascinating... A great outline of the subject, bringing what's often treated as science fiction down to Earth where it can be understood