Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life beyond Our Solar System

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Overview

Soon astronomers expect to find alien Earths by the dozens in orbit around distant suns. Before the decade is out, telltale signs that they harbor life may be found. If they are, the ramifications for all areas of human thought and endeavor--from religion and philosophy to art and biology--will be breathtaking. In Strange New Worlds, renowned astronomer Ray Jayawardhana brings news from the front lines of the epic quest to find planets--and alien life--beyond our solar system.

Only in the past fifteen years, after millennia of speculation, have astronomers begun to discover planets around other stars--hundreds in fact. But the hunt to find a true Earth-like world goes on. In this book, Jayawardhana vividly recounts the stories of the scientists and the remarkable breakthroughs that have ushered in this extraordinary age of exploration. He describes the latest findings--including his own--that are challenging our view of the cosmos and casting new light on the origins and evolution of planets and planetary systems. He reveals how technology is rapidly advancing to support direct observations of Jupiter-like gas giants and super-Earths--rocky planets with several times the mass of our own planet--and how astronomers use biomarkers to seek possible life on other worlds.

Strange New Worlds provides an insider's look at the cutting-edge science of today's planet hunters, our prospects for discovering alien life, and the debates and controversies at the forefront of extrasolar-planet research.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Popular astrophysicist Jayawardhana (Star Factories) suggests that mankind may be on the brink of a new scientific revolution. In the last two decades, "after millennia of musings and a century of false claims, astronomers have finally found definitive evidence of planets around stars other than the Sun." Within our lifetime, the author argues, scientists may discover the existence of life on one or more of these celestial bodies. He takes the reader on a four-century-long scientific quest to discover our place in the universe, beginning with the Copernican hypothesis and Galileo's discovery of four of Jupiter's moons. More recently, astronomer Debra Fischer's discovery of the existence of three planets orbiting a pair of twin stars widened the field of possibilities. While the criteria for the presence of life are stringent indeed, there are countless new possibilities, and Jayawardhana reviews technological advances from Galileo's primitive telescope to the Hubble, and the development of computerized adaptive optics, that allow today's astronomers to better probe the universe. The author also introduces the new science of astrobiology, which uses spectral analysis to seek evidence of life. An exciting, highly readable glimpse into a discovery that could have broad scientific and cultural implications.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Wall Street Journal
Anyone scanning the shelves today to learn about such urgent news from the universe should go directly 'J' and take down Ray Jayawardhana's Strange New Worlds. It begins with early speculation by ancient thinkers but moves quickly to a series of seemingly promising discoveries, beginning 160 years ago, that raised researchers' hopes only to frustrate them. . . . [R]eading Strange New Worlds, I felt the thrill of briefly sharing in the efforts of these planet-seeking scientists and seeing the universe through their eyes.
— Mike Brown
PublishersWeekly.com

He takes the reader on a four-century-long scientific quest to discover our place in the universe, beginning with the Copernican hypothesis and Galileo's discovery of four of Jupiter's planets. . . . An exciting, highly readable glimpse into a discovery that could have broad scientific and cultural implications.
Nature
In Strange New Worlds, astronomer and one-time journalist Ray Jayawardhana surveys how 15 years of exoplanet discovery has changed astrophysics. . . . Jayawardhana's presentation of the research is remarkably even-handed. This is a fast-moving field in which groups have often clashed. Nonetheless, he provides a survey of the subject without giving the protagonists anything to complain about. His lucid and effortless prose makes for an engaging read.
— Chris Tinney
Science News
Engaging. . . .
New Scientist
With the seemingly endless stream of news about discoveries of alien planets, it's easy to forget that just 20 years ago exoplanets were no more than theoretical possibilities. Now astronomer Ray Jayawardhana tells the story of how the dramatic hunt has unfolded, from the early days of stellar astronomy to present-day speculation about life outside our solar system.
BBC Focus
Jayawardhana is an award-winning science writer and an eminent planet-hunter, and so is the perfect person to write an accessible guidebook to the new worlds we're discovering in our galaxy. He explains how many of those discovered so far are pretty exotic, bloated and massive or scorchingly close to their sun, and how we've even had our first weather report for another world. But what's most exciting is that this book explains how we now have within our grasp the ability to spot a true twin of Earth.
Times Higher Education
This combination of the insider's expert perspective and storyteller's skill really shines through in Strange New Worlds. . . . [Y]ou won't find a more able guide for the journey.
— Lewis Dartnell
Cosmos
[A]n engaging read that casts a floodlight at the search for life-sustaining planets beyond our Solar System. . . . It is a must read for anyone who has ever wondered about the possibility of life beyond our planet.
— Myles Gough
Australian
Ray Jayawardhana, an astrophysicist and writer, vividly recounts the advances behind an extraordinary age of exploration.
— Leigh Dayton
Sydney Morning Herald
It is the most tantalizing question: are there other planets where creatures passingly like ourselves eat Chiko Rolls, watch TV and walk the dog? Jayawardhana, a journalist-cum-Professor of Observational Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, contemplates this question and, for those of us non-scientists, explains the history and current science in simple English.
Portland Book Review
The author's writing style is reader-friendly and makes science approachable. This book's glossary explains unfamiliar terms. Dr. Jayawardhana provides the latest findings including his own research. Surely we'll be hearing more newsworthy scientific developments in the near future.
— Kathryn Franklin
Fortean Times
It's a fascinating story, which Ray Jayawardhana, a planet hunter, Canadian professor of astronomy and science writer, tells with panache, enthusiasm and insight. . . . Strange New Worlds is . . . rich in anecdote.
Choice
The search for habitable planets around other stars is one of the preeminent research areas in astronomy today. Jayawardhana gives a firsthand account of the exciting discoveries that have taken place in the past two decades of rapidly accelerating growth in this new field. Strange New Worlds not only conveys the author's point of view about his own discoveries of planet-forming disks around other stars, but also contains excerpts from Jayawardhana's interviews with many of the other researchers who helped build the newest astronomical instruments, observe the first extrasolar planets, and create new or revised theories for the formation of planets.
Magonia Review of Books
[I]t is an interesting and well written book that doesn't need much technical knowledge to be appreciated.
— David Simpson
Astronomy Now
If you're looking for something to truly fire the imagination, then grab Ray Jayawardhana's Strange New Worlds from the shelves of your nearest bookshop—you will be glad that you did! . . . Providing an insider's view that includes the debates and controversies at the very front line of exoplanet research, this book is a fascinating read. Adding the occasional splash of personal interlude, Jayawardhana has provided us with the most engaging nine chapters of cutting-edge research making this masterpiece a winner for a wide audience of readers.
Planetarian
One aspect that attracted me to this book was that it revealed, in story book fashion, the chronology of discoveries (including the names of the most significant players involved) in the quest for finding exoplanets. Such a format made for easy reading and, with each chapter, you could see the exoplanet story unfold.
— Edward Albin
Wall Street Journal - Mike Brown
Anyone scanning the shelves today to learn about such urgent news from the universe should go directly 'J' and take down Ray Jayawardhana's Strange New Worlds. It begins with early speculation by ancient thinkers but moves quickly to a series of seemingly promising discoveries, beginning 160 years ago, that raised researchers' hopes only to frustrate them. . . . [R]eading Strange New Worlds, I felt the thrill of briefly sharing in the efforts of these planet-seeking scientists and seeing the universe through their eyes.
Nature - Chris Tinney
In Strange New Worlds, astronomer and one-time journalist Ray Jayawardhana surveys how 15 years of exoplanet discovery has changed astrophysics. . . . Jayawardhana's presentation of the research is remarkably even-handed. This is a fast-moving field in which groups have often clashed. Nonetheless, he provides a survey of the subject without giving the protagonists anything to complain about. His lucid and effortless prose makes for an engaging read.
Times Higher Education - Lewis Dartnell
This combination of the insider's expert perspective and storyteller's skill really shines through in Strange New Worlds. . . . [Y]ou won't find a more able guide for the journey.
Cosmos - Myles Gough
[A]n engaging read that casts a floodlight at the search for life-sustaining planets beyond our Solar System. . . . It is a must read for anyone who has ever wondered about the possibility of life beyond our planet.
Australian - Leigh Dayton
Ray Jayawardhana, an astrophysicist and writer, vividly recounts the advances behind an extraordinary age of exploration.
Portland Book Review - Kathryn Franklin
The author's writing style is reader-friendly and makes science approachable. This book's glossary explains unfamiliar terms. Dr. Jayawardhana provides the latest findings including his own research. Surely we'll be hearing more newsworthy scientific developments in the near future.
Magonia Review of Books - David Simpson
[I]t is an interesting and well written book that doesn't need much technical knowledge to be appreciated.
Planetarian - Edward Albin
One aspect that attracted me to this book was that it revealed, in story book fashion, the chronology of discoveries (including the names of the most significant players involved) in the quest for finding exoplanets. Such a format made for easy reading and, with each chapter, you could see the exoplanet story unfold.
From the Publisher
Finalist for the 2011 Lane Anderson Science Writing Award, Fitzhenry Family Foundation

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2011

One of Library Journal Reviews' Sci-Tech Best Books for 2011

"Anyone scanning the shelves today to learn about such urgent news from the universe should go directly 'J' and take down Ray Jayawardhana's Strange New Worlds. It begins with early speculation by ancient thinkers but moves quickly to a series of seemingly promising discoveries, beginning 160 years ago, that raised researchers' hopes only to frustrate them. . . . [R]eading Strange New Worlds, I felt the thrill of briefly sharing in the efforts of these planet-seeking scientists and seeing the universe through their eyes."—Mike Brown, Wall Street Journal

"He takes the reader on a four-century-long scientific quest to discover our place in the universe, beginning with the Copernican hypothesis and Galileo's discovery of four of Jupiter's planets. . . . An exciting, highly readable glimpse into a discovery that could have broad scientific and cultural implications."—PublishersWeekly.com (starred review)

"In Strange New Worlds, astronomer and one-time journalist Ray Jayawardhana surveys how 15 years of exoplanet discovery has changed astrophysics. . . . Jayawardhana's presentation of the research is remarkably even-handed. This is a fast-moving field in which groups have often clashed. Nonetheless, he provides a survey of the subject without giving the protagonists anything to complain about. His lucid and effortless prose makes for an engaging read."—Chris Tinney, Nature

"Engaging. . . ."—Science News

"With the seemingly endless stream of news about discoveries of alien planets, it's easy to forget that just 20 years ago exoplanets were no more than theoretical possibilities. Now astronomer Ray Jayawardhana tells the story of how the dramatic hunt has unfolded, from the early days of stellar astronomy to present-day speculation about life outside our solar system."—New Scientist

"Professor Jayawardhana is an award-winning science writer and an eminent planet-hunter, and so is the perfect person to write an accessible guidebook to the new worlds we're discovering in our galaxy. He explains how many of those discovered so far are pretty exotic, bloated and massive or scorchingly close to their sun, and how we've even had our first weather report for another world. But what's most exciting is that this book explains how we now have within our grasp the ability to spot a true twin of Earth."—BBC Focus

"This combination of the insider's expert perspective and storyteller's skill really shines through in Strange New Worlds. . . . [Y]ou won't find a more able guide for the journey."—Lewis Dartnell, Times Higher Education

"[A]n engaging read that casts a floodlight at the search for life-sustaining planets beyond our Solar System. . . . It is a must read for anyone who has ever wondered about the possibility of life beyond our planet."—Myles Gough, Cosmos

"Ray Jayawardhana, an astrophysicist and writer, vividly recounts the advances behind an extraordinary age of exploration."—Leigh Dayton, Australian
"It is the most tantalizing question: are there other planets where creatures passingly like ourselves eat Chiko Rolls, watch TV and walk the dog? Jayawardhana, a journalist-cum-Professor of Observational Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, contemplates this question and, for those of us non-scientists, explains the history and current science in simple English."—Sydney Morning Herald

"The author's writing style is reader-friendly and makes science approachable. This book's glossary explains unfamiliar terms. Dr. Jayawardhana provides the latest findings including his own research. Surely we'll be hearing more newsworthy scientific developments in the near future."—Kathryn Franklin, Portland Book Review

"Everything you need to know about alien planet discovery is insightfully described in this engaging book, which will appeal to astronomers, general science buffs, and armchair UFOlogists."—Library Journal (starred review)

"It's a fascinating story, which Ray Jayawardhana, a planet hunter, Canadian professor of astronomy and science writer, tells with panache, enthusiasm and insight. . . . Strange New Worlds is . . . rich in anecdote."—Fortean Times

"The search for habitable planets around other stars is one of the preeminent research areas in astronomy today. Jayawardhana gives a firsthand account of the exciting discoveries that have taken place in the past two decades of rapidly accelerating growth in this new field. Strange New Worlds not only conveys the author's point of view about his own discoveries of planet-forming disks around other stars, but also contains excerpts from Jayawardhana's interviews with many of the other researchers who helped build the newest astronomical instruments, observe the first extrasolar planets, and create new or revised theories for the formation of planets."—Choice

"[I]t is an interesting and well written book that doesn't need much technical knowledge to be appreciated."—David Simpson, Magonia Review of Books

"If you're looking for something to truly fire the imagination, then grab Ray Jayawardhana's Strange New Worlds from the shelves of your nearest bookshop—you will be glad that you did! . . . Providing an insider's view that includes the debates and controversies at the very front line of exoplanet research, this book is a fascinating read. Adding the occasional splash of personal interlude, Jayawardhana has provided us with the most engaging nine chapters of cutting-edge research making this masterpiece a winner for a wide audience of readers."—Astronomy Now

"One aspect that attracted me to this book was that it revealed, in story book fashion, the chronology of discoveries (including the names of the most significant players involved) in the quest for finding exoplanets. Such a format made for easy reading and, with each chapter, you could see the exoplanet story unfold."—Edward Albin, Planetarian

Library Journal
Jayawardhana (observational astrophysics, Univ. of Toronto) here fully describes the state of the art in extrasolar planet research. New planet discoveries have become routine, as teams of astronomers devote effort and telescope time to searching. Advances in adaptive optics, a system that compensates for Earth's turbulent atmosphere, and the Kepler spacecraft have improved our ability to discover planets. Astronomers also locate new worlds using the Doppler technique (measuring a planet's tug on its star) or spectroscopy or by observing a small dip in light output as a planet transits a distant star. The author describes "planemos," planetary-mass objects, that are surprising because they may form alone in the absence of stars. Planet discovery is competitive; teams must vie for funding and telescope time, and Jayawardhana carefully describes the political aspects from an astronomer's viewpoint. VERDICT Everything you need to know about alien planet discovery is insightfully described in this engaging book, which will appeal to astronomers, general science buffs, and armchair UFOlogists.—Jeffrey Beall, Univ. of Colorado, Denver
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691142548
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/3/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Ray Jayawardhana is professor and Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, as well as an award-winning science writer.
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Quest for Other Worlds
The Exciting Times We Live In 1
Chapter 2: Planets from Dust
Unraveling the Birth of Solar Systems 16
Chapter 3: A Wobbly Start
False Starts and Death Star Planets 46
Chapter 4: Planet Bounty
Hot Jupiters and Other Surprises 67
Chapter 5: F lickers and Shadows
More Ways to Find Planets 94
Chapter 6: Blurring Boundaries
Neither Stars nor Planets 123
Chapter 7: A Picture’s Worth
Images of Distant Worlds 149
Chapter 8: Alien Earths
In Search of Wet, Rocky Habitats 172
Chapter 9: Signs of Life
How Will We Find E.T.? 203
Glossary 229
Selected Bibliography 239
Index 245
Acknowledgments 257
About the Author 259

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Surprisingly not that bad...

    This actually wasn't a bad book. It did get dry at some parts - I mean, come on, it's a science book - but I actually enjoyed parts of it. It's so amazing to think that we're so close to discovering other worlds, and other life forms. It's not just science-fiction anymore - this stuff is really happening, and it's mindblowing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 23, 2011

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    Posted April 13, 2011

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