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From Dying Stars to the Birth of Life

Original price was: £24.99.Current price is: £6.25.

23 in stock

23 in stock

Professor JL Cranford

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About The Book

This book tells the incredible story of the birth of a whole new field of science called Astrobiology. In the 1990’s, powerful new ground – based telescopes plus space telescopes placed in orbits high above earth’s atmosphere allowed astronomers to begin discovering that our sun is not the only star in our galaxy to have planets circling it.

These new planet hunters (as they called themselves) quickly found that planetary “”homes”” for extraterrestrial life-forms might be relatively common in the universe. A few years earlier, beginning in the mid 1970’s, our life scientists also made a series of startling new discoveries that forced them to question their long held belief that life might be an extremely complicated and fragile process that requires equally complex and fragile environments for it to happen.

Single-cell bacterial like organisms were suddenly found living on our planet in extreme hostile environments that everyone believed should instantly kill any normal forms of earth life. Some of these creatures lived in extremely hot or even boiling water which was extremely salty, acidic, or alkaline. A few chose to make their homes inside icebergs, while still others chose even more bizarre environments, such as inside rocks located miles below ground or on the power rods or coils inside nuclear power plants. These life-forms appear to be the direct descendants of the earliest life that managed to evolve almost four billion years ago when our world was extremely hot and believed to be totally unfriendly to any forms of life that we are familiar with today. Our scientists now realized that life, even earth life, may be far more resilient and adaptive to extreme living conditions than previously thought possible and might be able to survive in extreme environments that might exist on other worlds in the universe.

And it was not just the planet hunters and the life scientists that experienced a sudden reality check at the end of the 20th century as a result of the rise of computers. Our earth scientists also now discovered that the earth, instead of being a passive ball of rock and gases, was a dynamic changing entity that had been able, over billions of years following its formation, to undergo complex physical changes in conjunction with life itself (i.e., to co-evolve) to produce an incredibly life friendly biosphere that today is literally teeming with fantastic varieties of life virtually everywhere and anywhere we choose to look.

Our space, life, and earth scientists now have the technology they need to move from speculating or fantasizing about life on other worlds to possibly providing mankind with the first definitive proof that we are not alone in the universe.

3 reviews for From Dying Stars to the Birth of Life

  1. Richard Baum – Astronomy Author

    By the seventeenth century the findings of Copernicus, Kepler and Newton, along with the revelations of Galileo’s primitive telescope, had fatally damaged the geocentric system of the ancients. Old certainties tottered and fell. No longer moving dots of light the planets were perceived as disks, other worlds, thus vindicating the fifth century Greek atomists Democritus and Leucippus who had propounded the idea of an infinity of other worlds.

    Struck by thoughts of busy life in distant worlds, astronomers stirred as from a dream and looked out across immensity keen to detect evidence in fulfilment of that hope. But though their findings augmented discussion, astronomical pluralism was ever characterized by theory and inference, metaphysical assumptions, frequently vivid imagination, and all too often undisciplined speculation; in brief nothing more positive than philosophical debate.

    But as the author of this fascinating and well illustrated book comments; “With the beginning of the … 21st century, mankind is finally close to being able to answer the age old question of whether we are alone in the universe.” Truly an optimistic outlook but he clearly and excitingly backs up his belief with an outstanding synthesis of the current state of affairs in the new inter-disciplinary field of what was once known as exobiology, but now since the late 1990s as astrobiology, a subject that incorporates the earth, life, space and behavioural sciences.

    In seven chapters we are taken on an immense journey from deep time to the end of time; the death of stars to the birth of life as the book is evocatively titled. The author displays real enthusiasm and verve for his subject and is well versed in its intricacies. His depth of knowledge is impressive, his presentation rigorous and engaging yet popular; his use of technical jargon minimal. This is where his background kicks in for the work can be recommended to any young person who exhibits an exploratory spirit and has an aptitude for science. Indeed its quality suggests a much wider educational possibility, since technical concepts are well explained in easy to understand language.

    The author works on a broad canvas in a relaxed manner describing the present state of knowledge of the physical structure of the universe, focusing on aspects directly related to the possible occurrence of extra terrestrial life. While acknowledging the pioneering days of the early telescopists, he emphasises the developments of the computer and space age, and the high technologies that allow scientists to probe the mysteries of the universe at an astonishing rate of progress; and the new types of telescopes designed to extend our reach into the electromagnetic spectrum. Treatment of the great diversity of life forms and environments in which they are found is as up to date as is possible, and is easily assimilated. Here but a fraction of the subject matter is touched upon, the range of knowledge is amazingly vast and very impressive. It is concisely presented but always in an informative and authoritative way that challenges the reader to enquire further.

    The suggestion for further readings is useful and fits in well with the character of the book. Cranford is aware that specialists or purists might disagree with his choice but in line with his objective his list is sufficient to stimulate the imagination and to urge the reader to delve further into this exciting new field of research.

    Overall this is a fine book, excellently conceived, and beautifully produced. It can be recommended to a wide readership. It is probably one of the better informed popular books in the genre.

  2. David Bradley –

    From Dying Stars to the Birth of Life – Personally, I’m with Fermi when it comes to intelligent ET – if they’re out there, where are they? Nevertheless, there could very well be less than technological life on other worlds, indeed it is almost inevitable. This is the incredible story of the birth of an entirely new field of science called astrobiology – a field that is now investigating whether life might exist on other worlds. From the discovery that other stars in our galaxy are circled by planets to the detection of single-cell organisms found living on Earth in extremely hostile environments, this account details the recent breakthroughs made by astronomers and earth scientists over the last few decades.

    Based on these findings, it argues that scientists now have the technology they need to move from speculating or fantasizing about extraterrestrials to possibly providing humanity with the first definitive proof that we are not alone.

  3. Felicity Williams – British Astrobiology Society

    The book aims to take the reader on a journey from the Big Bang right through to the development of instruments that allow us to observe extra-solar planet. Key scientific concepts are explained in the book with useful and colourful diagrams that make it accessible to people who do not have a scientific background. This book is suitable to anyone with an interest in astrobiology who wants a book that they can read without having to look elsewhere to understand some of the content. The author steers away from using scientific jargon, and uses informative and colourful diagrams to introduce readers to concept such as the Doppler Effect and the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s also a great book for students in the field, as it is an excellent summary of our understanding of astrobiology to date.

    The amount of information in the book is impressive. The first quarter of the book is devoted to explaining how our understanding of the universe has evolved due to advances in the instruments we use to see distant planets and stars, as well as techniques for measuring extraterrestrial atmospheres and lithospheres. It also covers the Big Bang Theory, the life cycles of stars and the formation of planets. The rest of the book is dedicated to exploring what life is, how life has evolved from single- celled to multi- celled organisms, and potential places within our solar system and beyond that may be suitable for life. Other topics covered include the structure of the Earth, mass extinctions and climate change, all relating back to life and the complex relationship between life and planet.

    Although the narrative flows well while reading, the style of writing makes it difficult to treat this book as a reference source or textbook. Subheadings within chapters are sometimes long, making it difficult to jump to pinpoint where a particular topic is covered. The first chapter is slightly confused, as it acts more as an introduction to the rest of the book, rather than a chapter about technology, as the title implies. The structure is fine as long as reading from cover to cover, which, judging from the style of writing used, is exactly how the book is intended to be read.

    Far from being just an astrobiology book, it is more a history of the evolution of the universe and of our understanding, really bringing together all of the disciplines that are needed to help us in our search for life elsewhere. It is the coverage of all of these disciplines and how they relate to astrobiology, as well as the relaxed writing style, that made this book a very enjoyable read for me.

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