The Quest for Alien Planets

Paul Halpern, Author Basic Books $27.95 (293p) ISBN 978-0-306-45623-7
The scientific search for extraterrestrial life has been somewhat eclipsed by the hoopla about Roswell, UFO sightings and movie special effects. Yet in this sober study, Halpern (The Structure of the Universe) does his best to dramatize the quests for, and questions surrounding, alien life-forms beyond our world. Halpern follows the discoveries of planets and the elaboration of planetary theories from the time of Galileo and Newton to today, when radio telescopes scan the stars of distant galaxies. Also included are discussions of the minimum requirements for planets to sustain life in terms of size, orbits and chemical composition, and the most likely places life-bearing planets might be found. Halpern's descriptions of various research projects, like those of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program, are rich in factual and historical detail as he takes the reader from the very earliest cosmic finds to the more recent discoveries of quasars, fermions and other galactic phenomena. He also devotes considerable attention to the folklore and popular culture that surround our understanding of other planets, and he includes sketches of scientists past and present. His book is a breath of fresh air on a subject crowded with crackpot theories and big-budget entertainment. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/1997
Release date: 08/01/1997
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