Planet Quest: The Epic Discovery of Alien Solar Systems

Ken Croswell, Author, Kris Croswell, Author Simon & Schuster $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-684-83252-4
In a book as rich in story as it is in science, Croswell (The Alchemy of the Heavens) takes readers on an epic journey through time and space. The story opens in Rome on February 17, 1600, where defrocked priest Giordano Bruno is being led to his execution; it ends on the threshold of interstellar exploration. To Bruno, who lost his life for proclaiming an infinite universe filled with stars and planets beyond imagining, science was not the enemy of religion but the tool of revelation of God's infinite splendor. To Croswell, the actions of Bruno's accusers demonstrated what they most feared: the insignificance of their individual lives. This book--filled with stories of disappointment and triumph, of missed opportunity and unexpected discovery--recounts four centuries of intertwining quests for grand ideas and individual glory by scientists and philosophers struggling to make sense of our place in the cosmos. It tells of three contentious solar planets ""discovered"" at various times: one (Vulcan, inside Mercury's orbit) was proven not to exist; one (Planet X, beyond Neptune and Pluto) was once avidly sought but now seems chimerical; and one (Pluto) may simply be part of a ""cometary belt"" beyond Neptune. Tales of scientific competition and serendipitous discovery, premature claims and heroic admissions of error mark the quest to become the 20th-century Columbus, the discoverer of the first extra-solar world. Soon the number of known planets beyond the solar system will far exceed the nine in our small neighborhood. We are poised, Croswell shows in his exceptional book, on an era of planet quest that promises to propagate the best and worst of humanity to other stars and worlds. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-15-600612-5
Paperback - 335 pages - 978-0-19-288083-3
Hardcover - 336 pages - 978-0-19-850198-5
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