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Faint Echoes, Distant Stars: The Science & Politics of Finding Life Beyond Earth

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Our neighboring planets may have the answer to this question. Scientists have already identified ice caps on Mars and what appear to be enormous oceans underneath the ice of Jupiter's moons. The atmosphere on Venus appeared harsh and insupportable of life, composed of a toxic atmosphere and oceans of acid -- until scientists concluded that Earth's atmosphere was eerily sim Our neighboring planets may have the answer to this question. Scientists have already identified ice caps on Mars and what appear to be enormous oceans underneath the ice of Jupiter's moons. The atmosphere on Venus appeared harsh and insupportable of life, composed of a toxic atmosphere and oceans of acid -- until scientists concluded that Earth's atmosphere was eerily similar billions of years ago. An extraterrestrial colony, in some form, may already exist, just awaiting discovery. But the greatest impediment to such an important scientific discovery may not be technological, but political. No scientific endeavor can be launched without a budget, and matters of money are within the arena of politicians. Dr. Ben Bova explores some of the key players and the arguments waged in a debate of both scientific and cultural priorities, showing the emotions, the controversy, and the egos involved in arguably the most important scientific pursuit ever begun.


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Our neighboring planets may have the answer to this question. Scientists have already identified ice caps on Mars and what appear to be enormous oceans underneath the ice of Jupiter's moons. The atmosphere on Venus appeared harsh and insupportable of life, composed of a toxic atmosphere and oceans of acid -- until scientists concluded that Earth's atmosphere was eerily sim Our neighboring planets may have the answer to this question. Scientists have already identified ice caps on Mars and what appear to be enormous oceans underneath the ice of Jupiter's moons. The atmosphere on Venus appeared harsh and insupportable of life, composed of a toxic atmosphere and oceans of acid -- until scientists concluded that Earth's atmosphere was eerily similar billions of years ago. An extraterrestrial colony, in some form, may already exist, just awaiting discovery. But the greatest impediment to such an important scientific discovery may not be technological, but political. No scientific endeavor can be launched without a budget, and matters of money are within the arena of politicians. Dr. Ben Bova explores some of the key players and the arguments waged in a debate of both scientific and cultural priorities, showing the emotions, the controversy, and the egos involved in arguably the most important scientific pursuit ever begun.

30 review for Faint Echoes, Distant Stars: The Science & Politics of Finding Life Beyond Earth

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gillian Brownlee

    Not bad, just outdated.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gendou

    Since publication, it has been discovered that Viking *did* find organics on Mars: http://news.discovery.com/space/vikin... Oops! Another correction: He says that 4 Hydrogen atoms fuse into one Helium. It's only 2. Editor should have caught that one! I did NOT enjoy reading about the following pseudo-scientific ABORTIONS: * UFOs, the Roswell crash site, etc. * Lowell and his canals on Mars * The ALH84001 Mars rock and imagined lifeforms therein I guess Ben Bova had nothing else to write about, so he Since publication, it has been discovered that Viking *did* find organics on Mars: http://news.discovery.com/space/vikin... Oops! Another correction: He says that 4 Hydrogen atoms fuse into one Helium. It's only 2. Editor should have caught that one! I did NOT enjoy reading about the following pseudo-scientific ABORTIONS: * UFOs, the Roswell crash site, etc. * Lowell and his canals on Mars * The ALH84001 Mars rock and imagined lifeforms therein I guess Ben Bova had nothing else to write about, so he included the bad science along with the good. Ugh. This is almost as bad as a similar (almost identical!) book by Paul Davies: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/73...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    A readable but limited introduction to astrobiology Science writer and science fiction writer extraordinaire, Ben Bova (only people like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan, and maybe one or two others, have done those two things any better) has two primary purposes in writing this book. The first is to bring the general reader up to date on the current status of the search for life beyond earth and the likelihood of its existence. The second is to report (and critique) the state of the A readable but limited introduction to astrobiology Science writer and science fiction writer extraordinaire, Ben Bova (only people like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan, and maybe one or two others, have done those two things any better) has two primary purposes in writing this book. The first is to bring the general reader up to date on the current status of the search for life beyond earth and the likelihood of its existence. The second is to report (and critique) the state of the political and economic wars pertaining to that search. Along the way Bova updates us on how the solar system was formed, concentrating in turn on each of the planets. He reports on the status of extra-solar planets (over 100 have been discovered as he went to press) and on why it is now believed that life may (in the form of "extremophiles") exist in places previously thought to be completely inhospitable such as deep underground, at the bottom of deep oceans, such as under the ice of Jupiter's moon, Europa, or even in interstellar clouds. The main strength of the book is Bova's always readable prose; the main weakness is a kind of "introductory" treatment that may be too limited or simplistic for more sophisticated readers. For myself--a reader somewhere between the extremes of novice and expert--I found the book reasonably informative and certainly in no sense dumbed-down. Of course I did not need to be told (as Bova does in a gray sidebar on page 80) that "a meteorite is what is left of" a meteor "if it survives to the ground." Nor did I need to be reminded that "Einstein's special theory of relativity showed that matter can be converted to energy" as Bova does in a footnote on page 67. Or even that living organisms seem to (but do not) violate the law of entropy. There are many other examples of this concession to the beginning reader, but not so many that I was annoyed or felt my time was being wasted. The editors are to be commended for putting most of the elementary material in gray boxes, footnotes, or in some of the eleven appendices. The book is organized into five sections beginning with what Bova calls "The Path to Astrobiology," and ending with "Tomorrow," in which he laments the lack of consistent funding for space exploration and argues that, if humans are to survive any of the catastrophes likely to strike earth (including the near certainty of the sun's expansion, explosion, and collapse in the very, very distant future) we must learn to live in places other than earth. For the real afficionado of astrobiology, this book will indeed be much too basic. For the fairly well-informed reader wanting to know just where we are in the search for life beyond earth, there are several better books. Two that I can recommend are, Stephen Webb' outstanding Where Is Everybody?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life (2002) and the excellent The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World (2002) by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee. Bova includes a discussion of the famous Drake equation and his take on the probabilities implied therein, but if you want the real in-depth treatment read Stephen Webb's book As far as the politics at NASA and in the Congress of the United States goes, I cannot recommend a better book, but can tell you that Bova's treatment here has taught me little that I didn't know. That the late Senator William Proxmire stupidly bestowed upon SETI one of his infamous "Golden Fleece" awards is old news, as is the fact that Nevada Senator Richard Bryan ridiculed the search for extraterrestrial life back in 1992 and helped to persuade Congress to cut SETI projects from NASA's budget. However Bova does report the efforts of private citizens (notably Microsoft's Paul Allen) to fund SETI projects as well as the efforts of some people at NASA and in Congress to emphasize the possibility of finding at least microbial life under the surface of Mars or elsewhere in the solar system as a means of exciting the public's fancy. If the public's fancy can be sufficiently excited, that will surely persuade our representatives to vote funds to support such projects. Certainly Bova has a clear understanding of what goes on in Congress. He writes, "Politicians make their decisions for political reasons, not scientific. The first question a politician asks when faced with a decision is, How will this affect my chances for reelection?" (p. 273) Nothing is going to change that. That is the way a representative democracy works. What needs to be done is to educate the public (and Congress itself!) on (1) the real value of the search for life beyond earth and (2) the real value of being able to colonize, e.g., the moon and Mars. In the first case we have that most beautiful quote from Lee DuBridge (or was it Pogo?) that sets the tone for Bova's book: "Either we are alone in the universe or we are not; either way it's mind-boggling." (p. ix) In the second case we have the specter of any number of earth-confined catastrophes that colonists on the moon or Mars might avoid, such as an unstoppable disease, nuclear warfare, or a huge meteor striking the earth. --Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”

  4. 5 out of 5

    George

    The first hour of this 9.5 hour book was interesting, Then it became droll, boring and droned on like Charlie Brown's teacher. The amount of scientific detail is excruciating. The political side, of which Bova is usually very good, was painful. Rudnicki, the narrator, was exquisite, as always. DNF. The first hour of this 9.5 hour book was interesting, Then it became droll, boring and droned on like Charlie Brown's teacher. The amount of scientific detail is excruciating. The political side, of which Bova is usually very good, was painful. Rudnicki, the narrator, was exquisite, as always. DNF.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Not exactly what I'd expected, but a very interesting read anyway. Bova provides an overview of the birth of the solar system (as well as stars and planets in general) in the context of how likely life is to be found on other worlds. I was, at first, very frustrated at his "dumbing-down" of the biology of early life; then I hit the sections on space science and found them to be at just the right level -- meaning it is very dumbed-down from the physicists' point of view. So I retract that complai Not exactly what I'd expected, but a very interesting read anyway. Bova provides an overview of the birth of the solar system (as well as stars and planets in general) in the context of how likely life is to be found on other worlds. I was, at first, very frustrated at his "dumbing-down" of the biology of early life; then I hit the sections on space science and found them to be at just the right level -- meaning it is very dumbed-down from the physicists' point of view. So I retract that complaint ;). As a history of the search for extraterrestrial life and prospects for the future, this is an excellent overview, going planet by planet (and comet and moon and object) through our solar system and beyond. Because it was written a few years ago, I found myself constantly searching the internet for updates on all the proposed programs at the time of publishing -- it's a perfect starting point.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Excellent book .... inspiring, provoking, the difference between this one and Diacu's book (see my shelf) is the way it is written .... The same informative contant, but the writing style is direct, engaging. I definitely recommend reading (it might be a bit difficult for young folks) Excellent book .... inspiring, provoking, the difference between this one and Diacu's book (see my shelf) is the way it is written .... The same informative contant, but the writing style is direct, engaging. I definitely recommend reading (it might be a bit difficult for young folks)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    About the possibility of life in the solar system and beyond, astrobiology; conclusion reached: Extraterrestrial life PROBABLE!

  8. 4 out of 5

    David R.

    An overly breathless survey. Too many sidebars.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Obert

    I enjoyed this book. It gave a lot of information on the subject of life in the universe and the lack of intelligence in Washington!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Liana

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mariana

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tony Turner

  13. 4 out of 5

    CARLO POPUCHET

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brad Hopkins

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ben

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike Frederiksen

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jack Thorlin

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stuart Clark

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hieu Tu

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mountain Humanist

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bernie

  25. 5 out of 5

    Emma

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mónica

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pete

  28. 5 out of 5

    James W.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dan Armstrong

  30. 4 out of 5

    Philip Orange

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