cover image Here Be Dragons: The Scientific Quest for Extra- Terrestrial Life

Here Be Dragons: The Scientific Quest for Extra- Terrestrial Life

Simon LeVay, David W. Koerner. Oxford University Press, USA, $30 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-19-512852-9

Exobiology (or cosmic biology), the scientific search for life beyond Earth, ""resembles a brainstorming session, with many discordant voices,"" according to this up-to-date report that mirrors that ferment. Koerner, a planetary scientist, and LeVay, a neuroanatomist, favor the view that technologically advanced civilizations are common in our galaxy and beyond, though many of their colleagues disagree. Their heady tour skips from ""extraterrestrial environments"" right here on Earth (Antarctica, Death Valley, etc.) where NASA scientists are investigating extreme environments believed to resemble conditions on other planets or moons, through the SETI Institute in California, whose radio telescopes scan the skies for transmitting civilizations, to the Bios Group, a Santa Fe start-up company that uses complexity theory to explore the intrinsic rules underlying the growth of evolving organisms or human institutions. Koerner has used the Hubble Space Telescope to study the birth of planets, and the book presents the latest evidence that planetary systems do indeed swirl around many stars besides our sun. The authors include a superficial, dismissive chapter on UFOs and reported alien contact. But their open-mindedness within the establishment field of exobiology, an area that is now the ""recipient of huge government resources,"" is manifest as they contemplate multiverse models of coexisting universes or attend a NASA workshop where astronomers, engineers and futurists discuss antimatter propulsion and laser-powered craft. Koerner and LeVay have a gift for helping the uninitiated over technical terrain, aided by clear writing, intuitive examples, color and b&w photos, and drawings. (Feb.)