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Inside the epic quest to find life on the water-rich moons at the outer reaches of the solar system Where is the best place to find life beyond Earth? We often look to Mars as the most promising site in our solar system, but recent scientific missions have revealed that some of the most habitable real estate may actually lie farther away. Beneath the frozen crusts of severa Inside the epic quest to find life on the water-rich moons at the outer reaches of the solar system Where is the best place to find life beyond Earth? We often look to Mars as the most promising site in our solar system, but recent scientific missions have revealed that some of the most habitable real estate may actually lie farther away. Beneath the frozen crusts of several of the small, ice-covered moons of Jupiter and Saturn lurk vast oceans that may have been in existence for as long as Earth, and together may contain more than fifty times its total volume of liquid water. Could there be organisms living in their depths? Alien Oceans reveals the science behind the thrilling quest to find out. Kevin Peter Hand is one of today's leading NASA scientists, and his pioneering research has taken him on expeditions around the world. In this captivating account of scientific discovery, he brings together insights from planetary science, biology, and the adventures of scientists like himself to explain how we know that oceans exist within moons of the outer solar system, like Europa, Titan, and Enceladus. He shows how the exploration of Earth's oceans is informing our understanding of the potential habitability of these icy moons, and draws lessons from what we have learned about the origins of life on our own planet to consider how life could arise on these distant worlds. Alien Oceans describes what lies ahead in our search for life in our solar system and beyond, setting the stage for the transformative discoveries that may await us.


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Inside the epic quest to find life on the water-rich moons at the outer reaches of the solar system Where is the best place to find life beyond Earth? We often look to Mars as the most promising site in our solar system, but recent scientific missions have revealed that some of the most habitable real estate may actually lie farther away. Beneath the frozen crusts of severa Inside the epic quest to find life on the water-rich moons at the outer reaches of the solar system Where is the best place to find life beyond Earth? We often look to Mars as the most promising site in our solar system, but recent scientific missions have revealed that some of the most habitable real estate may actually lie farther away. Beneath the frozen crusts of several of the small, ice-covered moons of Jupiter and Saturn lurk vast oceans that may have been in existence for as long as Earth, and together may contain more than fifty times its total volume of liquid water. Could there be organisms living in their depths? Alien Oceans reveals the science behind the thrilling quest to find out. Kevin Peter Hand is one of today's leading NASA scientists, and his pioneering research has taken him on expeditions around the world. In this captivating account of scientific discovery, he brings together insights from planetary science, biology, and the adventures of scientists like himself to explain how we know that oceans exist within moons of the outer solar system, like Europa, Titan, and Enceladus. He shows how the exploration of Earth's oceans is informing our understanding of the potential habitability of these icy moons, and draws lessons from what we have learned about the origins of life on our own planet to consider how life could arise on these distant worlds. Alien Oceans describes what lies ahead in our search for life in our solar system and beyond, setting the stage for the transformative discoveries that may await us.

30 review for Alien Oceans: The Search for Life in the Depths of Space

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    I’ve always maintained a bit of an interest in space exploration, and over the past couple of decades I’ve read with some amazement of the discovery of subsurface oceans of water in some of the bodies of the outer Solar System. This book provides a comprehensive overview of these discoveries. To begin with, the author explains how scientists came to discover the existence of the oceans. Suffice to say it’s not simply a matter of looking through a telescope. Right throughout the book though, the a I’ve always maintained a bit of an interest in space exploration, and over the past couple of decades I’ve read with some amazement of the discovery of subsurface oceans of water in some of the bodies of the outer Solar System. This book provides a comprehensive overview of these discoveries. To begin with, the author explains how scientists came to discover the existence of the oceans. Suffice to say it’s not simply a matter of looking through a telescope. Right throughout the book though, the author explains the relevant physics, maths, chemistry and biology in ways that are very clear to the layman. The book concentrates on Europa, Enceladus and Titan, where the existence of oceans has been established beyond doubt. There’s a fairly heavy emphasis on Europa, which the author sees as the most likely world to harbour life. In one chapter he does a brief tour of Ganymede, Callisto, Triton and Pluto, which are also worlds that are very likely to have subsurface oceans. After discussing the science of the alien oceans, the author moves onto speculate not just whether these worlds have life, but what sort of life they may have. He admits that this section of the book is pure conjecture but adds that it’s something that is fun to ponder. I think this part of the book has to be read in that spirit, as it is indeed very speculative. It then finishes strongly, with a description of what the next steps might be in investigating the ocean worlds. There are likely to be two missions to orbit Jupiter’s icy moons in the late 2020s (one from NASA and one from the European Space Agency), and he hopes that a landing on Europa might be achieved by the mid-2040s. It’s not part of the book, but my own feeling is that if we do find more than one world with life within a single planetary system, then it’s reasonably safe to assume that microbial life at least will have arisen in vast numbers of other worlds within our galaxy. I listened to the audio version of this book, which maybe wasn’t the best choice as it’s the sort of the book I would like to refer back to, and it’s less easy to do that with audio. The author narrates his own book, and whilst he doesn’t do a bad job, I didn’t think he was as good as a trained narrator. If like me you have an interest in the subject, you will find this to be absolutely fascinating.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Mars used to be the great hope for life in our solar system because it was known Mars had water. Now we know there's no water anymore and the focus has shifted to some of the moons in our solar system. I was surprised and fascinated to learn that over two hundred moons have been discovered that orbit the other planets, and there are thought to be more. Mercury and Venus, closest to the sun, have none and we've got the one. The other planets and Pluto, whatever it is, all have multiple moons. Jup Mars used to be the great hope for life in our solar system because it was known Mars had water. Now we know there's no water anymore and the focus has shifted to some of the moons in our solar system. I was surprised and fascinated to learn that over two hundred moons have been discovered that orbit the other planets, and there are thought to be more. Mercury and Venus, closest to the sun, have none and we've got the one. The other planets and Pluto, whatever it is, all have multiple moons. Jupiter has eighty that have been confirmed and Saturn over fifty -- each likely has many more. Uranus has 27 confirmed moons, Neptune 14 and Pluto, whatever it is, is known to have five; all are believed to have more. For those of you who, like me, didn't know, how cool, right? Amazing! But I didn't learn this from the book. I learned it and a lot more from searching, streaming and from websites. Some of the information in this review comes from a documentary and a few YouTube videos I watched and supplemental reading on the internet -- after finishing this poorly-written and disorganized book. To be fair, the subject is not solar system exploration in general so the number of moons isn't relevant, but in this book about moons which contains less interesting extraneous information, I would have liked these few facts to be included. The writing ruined the book for me. At best this book served as an amuse bouche that turned my usual appetite for anything space into intense hunger. Hand writes about only those moons and Pluto that are known to have the possibility of life. It's a hard subject to write about because there are many tantalizing questions without answers. Since most of the search for life is based on conjecture, the book is full of "may" and "could," "potentially" and other qualifiers. In Hand's hands this gets tedious; a better writer would have handled it better by making it clear at the outset rather than repeating them repeatedly. There are believed to be three conditions essential for life in our solar system and in the beginning Hand writes: "to understand the sweet spot for habitability and why some of these ice-covered moons might reside in that sweet spot...we begin with the classic story of Goldilocks." Get it? Three conditions: Goldilocks. The fairytale metaphor comes off as foolish.* And Goldilocks doesn't just have a cameo; she's mentioned throughout, to the end. It's meant to make this crucial point which needs no fairytale character: "Life needs three things: liquid water, the elements to build life, and the energy to sustain life." [*I have been corrected by Jenna in the comments section. The Goldlilocks Zone is actually a standard scientific term for the three conditions necessary for life to arise in our solar system. Because the author never makes that clear and for other reasons, I wish Jenna had written this book.] So: the moons that are already known to have ice crusts are of great interest, as is Pluto, whatever it is. Also promising is Jupiter's Io, which is made of volcanos. On earth the elements to build came from hydrothermal vents located at the bottom of the ocean. Ice crusts could have oceans beneath, and though Hand never says anything this simply, just think about rivers and lakes freezing with flowing water below. Where there is water, thermal vents or other sorts of formations to introduce elements and bacteria to mix with them, there is a good chance there's life there. Hand never makes clear whether this is the general consensus of all scientists in the field; certainly many believe that but he writes as if everyone does and I wanted clarification on that. And other things, such as this: "The density change in water across the liquid–solid boundary (at the pressure of Earth’s surface) goes from 0.9999 grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm3) of liquid water at 0 °C, to 0.9167 g/cm3 once it freezes at 0 °C. That is about a 9% change in density! Curiously, water has an even higher density at 4 °C than at 0 °C in the liquid phase. At 4 °C water is 1.0000 g/cm3." I'm not gifted in math or science and he never explained what it means. I had no idea and that was frustrating. Fortunately a GR friend who had read the book and who understands these matters commented on my highlight: "It's a fancy way of saying water takes up 9% more space as ice than it does as a liquid." Thank you for translating that for this mortal's mind. In explaining how water is made of oxygen and hydrogen atoms whose electrons hook up (I think that's what he's explaining) he uses a long section in which he's got the atoms and electrons riding a Ferris wheel. They ride the Ferris wheel ad nauseum, which came close to inducing nausea in me. I wrote a note on the highlight that says: "All these words he used and I don't even know what the point is..." And I still don't. There's also this, and more like it: "The angle between the hydrogen branches of the pyramid (i.e., linking H-O-H) is 104.5 degrees (Figure 2.1c). The electrons distributed on the other side of the molecule also form an angle of 104.5 degrees, with the oxygen atom at the vertex." Over the course of two chapters he uses the analogy of a baby and babysitter (safe to say nonscientific terms?) and within them is this: "...the total would look something like: 0.66mara2 + 0.66mbrb2 + 0.66mcrc2 +.…, where the subscripts a, b, and c refer to the different layers. With the exception of the outermost layer, the radii of the inner shells must be smaller than the total radius, R. For example, rb might be half the full radius, which would mean rb = R/2. If we now plug in R/2 for rb in the expression above, we see that ½ becomes ¼ after it’s squared; and then it divides into 0.66, and the new term is 0.16mbR." Forgive but I can't resist including two more examples from among the silly and distracting: Humpty Dumpty being thrown off the Empire State Building and an octopus holding a hammer. There's a lot of riveting information in Alien Oceans because the subject is inherently riveting. Some of it is written clearly. Hand includes some history of exploration and some information about projects underway or soon to take off that will gather much more detailed information. Based on what is known now, Jupiter's Europa and Saturn's Enceladus are most likely to have some sort of life. The European Space Agency's Jupiter's Icy Moons Explorer, aka JUICE, spacecraft leaves next year to explore Europa and two other moons of Jupiter. It will enter Jupiter's orbit in 2030. As I write it's exactly a month since Perseverance landed on Mars. The rock samples it's collecting as I write will arrive on earth a year after JUICE gets to Jupiter. There's a NASA spacecraft headed for Saturn's Titan and plans being finalized to send one to Enceladus, which is the best hope of some scientists. Big things are happening in space exploration, beautiful ones. Some of the information in the last two paragraphs came from the book but some came from other sources; I can't be sure which is which because now I know there's a lot of information available about the search for life. This is a topic I'm fascinated by but hadn't read much about. Two of my GR friends enjoyed Alien Oceans and there are other good reviews. This was not my book but, given the right conditions, it may be yours.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Numidica

    Having just read The Sirens of Mars by another JPL alum, I feel for Kevin Hand. Exploration of Mars has gotten the lion's share of funding at NASA in the last twenty-five years, so when Hand wants to cite data in reference to his thoughts on the possibilities of life on the watery (icy) moons of the outer Solar System, the data is both old and scant. That said, what we do know is intriguing, and it would seem that NASA would gladly mount interesting missions to Europa, one of Jupiter's more prom Having just read The Sirens of Mars by another JPL alum, I feel for Kevin Hand. Exploration of Mars has gotten the lion's share of funding at NASA in the last twenty-five years, so when Hand wants to cite data in reference to his thoughts on the possibilities of life on the watery (icy) moons of the outer Solar System, the data is both old and scant. That said, what we do know is intriguing, and it would seem that NASA would gladly mount interesting missions to Europa, one of Jupiter's more promising moons, and to other Jovian moons if Congress would appropriate funds. It seems unlikely though, that the focus on Mars will end soon, especially since Mars is so much easier to reach; Jupiter is, on average, eight times further from Earth than Mars, so getting to the vicinity of Europa is just harder. It will be quite some time before we know even a fraction as much about the ice moons as we do about Mars, but in the meantime, Hand's book is a good primer on the possibilities for life there.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    This is a really interesting look at the state of astrobiology at the time of its writing, and like the science itself, has a sometimes frustrating mix of brilliant hard science with wild speculation. The science on how we know that the outer planet's moons have seas is fascinating reading, and varies between extremely direct (flying the Cassini probe through the water plumes from Saturn's moon Enceladus) to the more speculative where the evidence isn't quite as strong (the outer moons of Jupiter This is a really interesting look at the state of astrobiology at the time of its writing, and like the science itself, has a sometimes frustrating mix of brilliant hard science with wild speculation. The science on how we know that the outer planet's moons have seas is fascinating reading, and varies between extremely direct (flying the Cassini probe through the water plumes from Saturn's moon Enceladus) to the more speculative where the evidence isn't quite as strong (the outer moons of Jupiter for instance). Likewise the discussion of alternate biochemistry is also interesting, if a bit more speculative. At least it gives some likely alternatives. Where it all comes a bit unstuck for me is some much wilder speculation later in the book about actual icy moon ecosystems and life forms. It just doesn't really fit with the harder science in most of the rest of the book. Still, I think the first two thirds is good enough reason to read this.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rick Wilson

    Good book. If you enjoyed the scientific parts of Extraterrestrial by Avi Loeb I would highly recommend this book. But I would maybe worn off against it if you’re not into more chemical and biological discussions of extraterrestrial life and it’s possibilities. That being said it handles the chemical bit quite well and quite entertaining leave if you are up for a challenge.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    Most people who have a passing interest in astronomy and astrobiology are well aware that the most likely candidates to sustain recognizable life in our own solar system are the moons of the gas giant planets. These unique little worlds unto themselves have a staggering array of composition and environment. Some are obviously barren bits of rock, others like Io offer the largest amount of volcanic activity in the solar system, and others are bizarre ice worlds which likely contain their own ocea Most people who have a passing interest in astronomy and astrobiology are well aware that the most likely candidates to sustain recognizable life in our own solar system are the moons of the gas giant planets. These unique little worlds unto themselves have a staggering array of composition and environment. Some are obviously barren bits of rock, others like Io offer the largest amount of volcanic activity in the solar system, and others are bizarre ice worlds which likely contain their own oceans deep underneath this massive protective layer. In the work, Kevin Peter hand makes the case for the most likely contenders among these aforementioned stellar bodies for the conditions necessary and conducive to life to be two moons of Saturn: Enceladus and Titan; and Jupiter's Europa. Beginning with his background in the study of our own oceans on Earth, Hand lays out the history of development leading to our ability to understand the necessary oceanic conditions for life, the recent history of hydrothermal vents, and the exploration of our solar system already conducted in the area of Saturn and Jupiter's moons. This was all fascinating new history to me and he certainly makes a fine argument for his list, though I would also include Ganymede on the short list...however this is hardly my profession so I will of course yield to the expert. Anyway, the concluding two sections summarize what we know of the origins of life on our own planet and the future steps we need to take to adequately understand the moon worlds he has so deftly described. If you are already up on the literature as pertains to Earth's early life forms, you likely don't need to read much of section 3, however I would certainly recommend the final section especially given the rate of development we are currently seeing from the partnering of NASA with private companies such as SpaceX. He frames the discussion quite interestingly in that our own study of Earth's oceans has piggybacked on, in most cases, outdated military equipment that was not the most efficient mechanism possible, but got the job done. Also, given how frequently NASA's budget is used as a political football, seeking funding and advancement outside of this government agency is a pressing necessity. Anyway, this book certainly delivers on its promise and you will certainly leave it with a great awareness of the worlds possible on Europa, Enceladus, and Titan.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eloise Sunshine

    Wow, this was actually better than I anticipated! So although the title may hint to a fantasy book, it's really about places in our solar system that may have suitable conditions for life to emerge. Not exactly "Green Martians" type of life, but at least some microbial. The book starts off about diving deep down into our own oceans here on planet Earth and then draws parallels to the somewhat similar conditions found in our solar system. It concentrates mostly on moons such as Europa, Enceladus a Wow, this was actually better than I anticipated! So although the title may hint to a fantasy book, it's really about places in our solar system that may have suitable conditions for life to emerge. Not exactly "Green Martians" type of life, but at least some microbial. The book starts off about diving deep down into our own oceans here on planet Earth and then draws parallels to the somewhat similar conditions found in our solar system. It concentrates mostly on moons such as Europa, Enceladus and Titan, but since the author (who was also the narrator) is a huge fan of the topic himself, worked with NASA for years etc, his writing style is captivating and thought-provoking. Clearly he's been practicing well by giving public speeches on the topic :D As I have a 9 year old cosmos enthusiast growing at home, the issues discussed here in this book weren't foreign to me. We've watched many a documentary about what the scientists have managed to find out about these moons thus far, which missions have been sent to investigate the relevant areas in our solar system etc. I personally liked a lot the latter half of his book, where he rather philosophized about the possible scenarios how life could have developed there, which might be it's so to say intelligence level and so forth. Also, it was heart-warming to see a quote from a fantasy book =)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alex Givant

    Need to re-read it to get all of these beautiful scientific details.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Baugh

    As the subtitle says, it's about the possibilities for life in deep oceans like those on Europa, Enceladus, and other moons in our solar system, and in comparable environments, elsewhere, and about the ways we'd search for it. Executive summary: This is a pure delight. If the subject interests you, you are likely love this as much as I did. In the opening chapters, Hand discusses something that was new to me: the precise measurements spacecraft take while out yonder that lead to conclusions like " As the subtitle says, it's about the possibilities for life in deep oceans like those on Europa, Enceladus, and other moons in our solar system, and in comparable environments, elsewhere, and about the ways we'd search for it. Executive summary: This is a pure delight. If the subject interests you, you are likely love this as much as I did. In the opening chapters, Hand discusses something that was new to me: the precise measurements spacecraft take while out yonder that lead to conclusions like "this moon has a mass of 3.6 grams per cubic centimeter" and how results like that in turn support the modeling that leads to a sense of how the interior of a moon is layered. There's a lot here about cosmic ray measurement, getting precise navigational fixes as competing gravitational forces tug a spacecraft back and forth, sampling gases via mass spectrometer, and more. Some of it frankly went over my head (so to speak), but that's fine - I still got a good overview of the field and a fresh appreciation for a lot of people's work. (I already had high regard for everyone involved with working around Galileo's main antenna deployment failure. Even more so now. And how good it is to have reasons for amazed respect, right?) He moves to discuss competing theories of how life made the steps from organic chemistry to actual organisms, kinds of environments within 50-km deep oceans under 30-km thick layers of ice that could be good for life, his own experience (and the work of others) observing at deep-sea vents on Earth, possibilities for life-supporting chemistry and organism development using elements and molecules life doesn't use on Earth, and so much more. The flow from one topic to another is excellent: Hand doesn't just know his subject, he's excellent at explaining it, and shows great practice at it. One thing I particularly like is how specifically he credits individuals and teams for discoveries, inventions, and ongoing research. Everything here is in the active voice - science doesn't just happen in an abstract way, people are always doing things and learning from them. He repeatedly writes with great enthusiasm and admiration for all his many colleagues, sometimes going into biographical sketches, particularly when it comes to women who overcome extra adversities to reach positions of leadership. He's also very clear throughout about distinguishing gathered data from their interpretation, and well-anchored conclusions from speculation and outright flights of fancy. He is careful to avoid using anyone's authority to give more weight than is due for guesses, no matter how much fun he's having at the latter sometimes. So this is just a great science book, covering an interesting subject in a way only an active participant can. I had this in the version from Audible; he reads his own book, and does it very well. He's good to listen to as well as to read. Big thumbs up. :)

  10. 5 out of 5

    John Gribbin

    Astrobiologists now agree that the best immediate hope for finding life “elsewhere” is not on a planet orbiting a distant star, but in the watery interiors of moons orbiting the giant planets of our Solar System, Jupiter and Saturn. They used to think that water (which seems to be essential for life as we know it) could only exist in the “Goldilocks Zone” around the Sun, where warmth comes from the Sun itself; but they now realise that these moons can be kept hot inside by tidal forces, stretchi Astrobiologists now agree that the best immediate hope for finding life “elsewhere” is not on a planet orbiting a distant star, but in the watery interiors of moons orbiting the giant planets of our Solar System, Jupiter and Saturn. They used to think that water (which seems to be essential for life as we know it) could only exist in the “Goldilocks Zone” around the Sun, where warmth comes from the Sun itself; but they now realise that these moons can be kept hot inside by tidal forces, stretching and squeezing them as the move through the gravitational field of their planetary parents. Kevin Hand’s book is partly about the discoveries made by spaceprobes that have visited these moons, partly about the origin of life, and partly an adventure story, because in pursuit of the origin of life he has been on deep dives to the bottom of the ocean on Earth to observe the strange creatures which live there. This is a pretty heady mixture, and pretty well put together. But I only give it four stars because there are a few “ouch” moments. The worst is when Hand says "The elements in the Sun are the same as the elements found here on Earth,” without explaining that this is what people thought roughly a hundred years ago, but was disproved by one of my astronomical heroes, Cecilia Payne, in the 1920s. We also get a rather dodgy story about his encounters with airport security, which if true cast him in a very bad light. Did he really deliberately try to set off the metal detectors? On the science side, it would have been good to have some discussion of the latest thinking about the origin of our kind of life (eukaryotic life), which is much more interesting than the out of date version he provides. And at a trivial level it is only Americans these days who use degrees Fahrenheit without even giving a conversion to the units used by everyone else! But the main message of the book is compelling and makes it well worth reading: If our solar system is any guide, ocean worlds may provide ten to a hundred times the volume of liquid water found on worlds like Earth, with oceans on their surfaces. What might this mean for the emergence of intelligent life throughout our solar system and beyond?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Darren MacIntosh

    The subtitle for this book, ironically what got me interested (along with an interview with the author on the Planetary Society podcast), really does not do it justice. Hand writes about more than just the specifics of the ‘Alien Oceans’ of Europa, Enceladus and Titan (though he knows this is the hook for his audience). He writes about the chemistry and biology of our own oceans, and the physics and geology of our own planet. Hand expertly grounds us in our own ‘local’ scientific processes that w The subtitle for this book, ironically what got me interested (along with an interview with the author on the Planetary Society podcast), really does not do it justice. Hand writes about more than just the specifics of the ‘Alien Oceans’ of Europa, Enceladus and Titan (though he knows this is the hook for his audience). He writes about the chemistry and biology of our own oceans, and the physics and geology of our own planet. Hand expertly grounds us in our own ‘local’ scientific processes that we might be better informed and prepared to share in the life-hosting potential of these other places. In telling me why these places are leading candidates for life in our Solar System, Hand weaves in a scientific narrative of the how and why of life here on Earth (in a way that I can both understand and appreciate). He then theorizes what forms potential life might take in these other worlds. Like all true theories, Hand’s musings are respectful of the science they extrapolate. Finishing this book, I searched through the author’s notes for complementary reading - the true sign of a successful piece of nonfiction. Highly recommended!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carmelo Valone

    Simply amazing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Fantastic book. Well researched and easily readable Excellent and enjoyable book that will appeal to both technically oriented and casual readers alike. Kevin Hand makes a strong case for exploring the many ice covered oceans of our solar system.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    “ To turn a classic phrase on its head, failure has to be an option when you are trying to do new things and push the frontier. Fail early and often, and learn from your failures. Kivelson and her team were quick studies in the art of failure. Not long after they failed, they won. It turns out that the mission to Jupiter included two components: the orbiter and a probe. The probe would dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere and send back a small, but very useful, dataset as it plummeted into Jupiter. ” B “ To turn a classic phrase on its head, failure has to be an option when you are trying to do new things and push the frontier. Fail early and often, and learn from your failures. Kivelson and her team were quick studies in the art of failure. Not long after they failed, they won. It turns out that the mission to Jupiter included two components: the orbiter and a probe. The probe would dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere and send back a small, but very useful, dataset as it plummeted into Jupiter. ” Brilliantly written. I half-read this and half-listened to the audiobook. Usually it's easy for me to get distracted when it comes to non-fiction books because non-fiction books have the tendency to be so repetitive and monotonous in tone (esp. general non-fiction books). I read/listened to it in morning right after I wake up. I think this is definitely a morning book, and not a pre-bed book, but you do you. I must confess that I found the first chapter slightly confusing because before reading this, I knew nothing about the existence of these 'alien oceans'. But the writer explains so well that it's almost impossible to not understand. I don't know if not knowing anything before reading this is an advantage? Because I found it all so fresh/new and exciting. Also, knowing now that the surface of 'Europa' is super salty, well - this makes me more excited to read and learn more about halophytic plants. Yes, I do believe that halophytic plants will become more and more important in the very near future (if they aren't already). They literally recycle human shit, what more can one ask for? And no, there is no astrobotany in this book, but it's still very good. Also, the book ends with a hopeful note about a lonely robot(s) waiting to detect any form of 'life'. Too cute, I like.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Hirsch

    "Alien Oceans" begins with director James Cameron and a crew being plunged in a submersible deep into the ocean, toward the seafloor. No, he is not being banished for bringing the world "Avatar," or even worse, threatening the world with numerous "Avatar" sequels. He was down there doing research for another movie (from "The Abyss" to "Titanic," it's safe to say Mr. Cameron is some kind of aquaphile). Kevin Peter Hand, the author of "Alien Oceans," was down there with Cameron, but for other reas "Alien Oceans" begins with director James Cameron and a crew being plunged in a submersible deep into the ocean, toward the seafloor. No, he is not being banished for bringing the world "Avatar," or even worse, threatening the world with numerous "Avatar" sequels. He was down there doing research for another movie (from "The Abyss" to "Titanic," it's safe to say Mr. Cameron is some kind of aquaphile). Kevin Peter Hand, the author of "Alien Oceans," was down there with Cameron, but for other reasons. His interests lays in the heavens, among the stars, or, to be more precise, among the icy moons of our solar system. "Alien Oceans" is a very informative, somewhat entertaining exploration of what we know about oceans on other planets, and what scientifically grounded speculation exists about how we might learn more, and what that might mean for us as a species, if it fact we do make contact with other forms of life. It's written by an expert but pitched to the general reader (If I understand a scientific concept, it has been sufficiently dumbed down). The book is definitely worth your time, if you're interested in space exploration and the potential for the more plausible types of life we're likely to find out there, if indeed any exist. My only complaint is that the focus on organic and molecular composition is not balanced by much of a look at exobiology. I understand that the book is a respectable foray by a pedigreed specialist, but a bit more wonder did creep into the text from time to time, and I wish the author had indulged this tendency, and spent a tad less bit time with the Periodic Table and the medium through which creatures might swim, and spent a little more time with the potential creatures themselves. Those from hard science backgrounds are likely to feel the opposite way, and will be grateful for the chemistry-centric focus of the book. Recommended, in any case. With photos, drawings, some charts, and models.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alex Shrugged

    I liked it. I didn't love it. This book was a straightforward treatment of the subject of hunting for life in the universe and specifically in our solar system. The author went into detail on how astronomers could know from a distance whether life had the potential to exist. He also went briefly into the history of how certain instruments were developed that would one day help in detecting water and other chemicals essential for life. All that was already understood by me. No surprises. Note that I liked it. I didn't love it. This book was a straightforward treatment of the subject of hunting for life in the universe and specifically in our solar system. The author went into detail on how astronomers could know from a distance whether life had the potential to exist. He also went briefly into the history of how certain instruments were developed that would one day help in detecting water and other chemicals essential for life. All that was already understood by me. No surprises. Note that I am reviewing the audiobook as read by the author. He has a good voice. Smooth. He was a good choice for this audiobook. Any problems with the book? Yes. The author got into formulas. That can always be tricky. For an audiobook it was almost useless. I could not keep so many abstract ideas in my head sufficiently to get the final point. In fact he summarized his final point which made me ask myself, "Why didn't he just go right for the summary and place the formula in the footnotes?" It was too confusing for audio. The other problem I had was that a large portion of the book was too speculative. I wasn't buying the idea of how easily life could come into being just about everywhere. It sounded like a proposal to NASA for funding for multiple deep space probes. It was obvious he was pushing for funding. I'm, not blaming him. It is an occupational hazard, but I'm the reader. Not NASA. I doubt I will read this book again.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Interesting read, especially topic-wise. But this book has some flaws, to be honest. Hand explores the question of life in oceans in space. One one side, he does it with great detail in respect to scientific technology, explaining in detail how scientist can determine which elements are present on a planet by online flying-by. Those sections were highly interesting to me and Kevin Hand explains it very understandable. The more speculative parts I did not enjoy as much. It seemed less theory buil Interesting read, especially topic-wise. But this book has some flaws, to be honest. Hand explores the question of life in oceans in space. One one side, he does it with great detail in respect to scientific technology, explaining in detail how scientist can determine which elements are present on a planet by online flying-by. Those sections were highly interesting to me and Kevin Hand explains it very understandable. The more speculative parts I did not enjoy as much. It seemed less theory building on hard facts (which I see is hard regarding this topic) than Kevin Hand just writing down some ideas he enjoys. And those were to my opinion very biased, focussing on a human perspective. I do think that by exploring space we have to consider that we might find life that is completely different to how we define life on earth. In some points, he does take it into account, but, as mentioned, not most of the times. Throughout the book, I felt sometimes lost. The author got stuck in details or made loops to far away, that I lost the overview and connection to the main question. The insights into NASA's work were also enjoyable. So overall an interesting read with good and less good parts.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Molyneaux

    This is one of the best popscience books I’ve ever read. It perfectly knits together personal stories of underwater exploration on Earth with a beautiful and wide ranging analysis of the scientific evidence for oceans on other worlds and theories about how life might evolve in such settings. I particularly loved the detailed descriptions of the multiple techniques used to analyze the composition of moons/planets, and this book is worth picking up for the description of the history of spectroscop This is one of the best popscience books I’ve ever read. It perfectly knits together personal stories of underwater exploration on Earth with a beautiful and wide ranging analysis of the scientific evidence for oceans on other worlds and theories about how life might evolve in such settings. I particularly loved the detailed descriptions of the multiple techniques used to analyze the composition of moons/planets, and this book is worth picking up for the description of the history of spectroscopy alone! But there’s more here to savor. There’s geology (minerology, etc.), physics (magnetic fields, etc.), chemistry (e.g. redox reactions, chirality, etc.) and biology (e.g., nucleic acids, metabolism, etc.), all enriching our understanding of planetary science. This book filled me with awe and hope. Read it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy Himberc

    Genial, approachable, written in short but rich sentences and filled with affection for its oceanic, lunar, and general scientific subjects, this book will likely be easy to understand and enjoyable to follow for any general reader who has an interest in the solar system beyond Earth. It sounds like the 'easy to understand and enjoyable to follow' part is debated, but I've read 20th-century science explainers and... Alien Oceans is really boiled down a lot in comparison, to make life simpler for Genial, approachable, written in short but rich sentences and filled with affection for its oceanic, lunar, and general scientific subjects, this book will likely be easy to understand and enjoyable to follow for any general reader who has an interest in the solar system beyond Earth. It sounds like the 'easy to understand and enjoyable to follow' part is debated, but I've read 20th-century science explainers and... Alien Oceans is really boiled down a lot in comparison, to make life simpler for us. I also liked that the author countered the magisterial idea that scientific progress bursts fully formed into the brains of a rare genius elite; the book shows how much cooperation and patience, and the combined intelligence and effort of many people, matter. It felt like a good note to strike for the 21st century.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Waddell

    I think if I had three wishes they would be: 1. Go back in time to observe Neanderthals 2. Garneau Donuts back in business 3. For us to have proof (photographic and video if I can be greedy) that there is life in at least one of the myriad ocean worlds here in our own solar system. This book doesn't help me with the first two wishes at all, but at least gives me hope that the third, might, some day in the distant but hopefully not too distant future, be granted. Maybe. Even if it wound up being sup I think if I had three wishes they would be: 1. Go back in time to observe Neanderthals 2. Garneau Donuts back in business 3. For us to have proof (photographic and video if I can be greedy) that there is life in at least one of the myriad ocean worlds here in our own solar system. This book doesn't help me with the first two wishes at all, but at least gives me hope that the third, might, some day in the distant but hopefully not too distant future, be granted. Maybe. Even if it wound up being super boring life like Europan stromatolite-analogs, just sitting there respirating and replicating, this would at least show that life is not unique. I love how Hand makes the point that it took a while but we eventually figured out that chemistry and physics works same out there as here, so why not life?? Right? Right!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    This book is an excellent review of a criminally underfunded and under-explored area of the solar system. The author’s enthusiasm oozes through the book, however it does feel at times that this is a funding application for NASA. It starts out detailing several experimental results that explain various physical elements of many of the moons in our solar system, deriving how such vast oceans come to exist. However, after some further analysis of ocean moon characteristics, the book then goes into a This book is an excellent review of a criminally underfunded and under-explored area of the solar system. The author’s enthusiasm oozes through the book, however it does feel at times that this is a funding application for NASA. It starts out detailing several experimental results that explain various physical elements of many of the moons in our solar system, deriving how such vast oceans come to exist. However, after some further analysis of ocean moon characteristics, the book then goes into a deep explanation of the biological and chemical origins of life. As a physicist, I did find my interest fading throughout this lengthy section in the middle but if you are into this sort of stuff then this is definitely a good book for you.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kaye

    Interesting book. I haven't had chemistry since I was in high school, so I appreciated the step-by-step walks through sections containing a lot of chemistry, and I enjoyed the analysis of the various oceanic worlds' compositions and what life could look like there. The discussions of upcoming NASA missions was very illuminating, and I wish there had been more because I'm always curious as to how those proposal processes work. Hand tried to be conversational in the book, and at times, the tone of Interesting book. I haven't had chemistry since I was in high school, so I appreciated the step-by-step walks through sections containing a lot of chemistry, and I enjoyed the analysis of the various oceanic worlds' compositions and what life could look like there. The discussions of upcoming NASA missions was very illuminating, and I wish there had been more because I'm always curious as to how those proposal processes work. Hand tried to be conversational in the book, and at times, the tone of the writing veered towards "teaching eight-year-olds about Europa and Titan at a planetarium," which is my only negative comment; there are other science writers who hit a better balance for explaining things to nonspecialists in a way that is less awkward.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Richard Jackson

    This is a fascinating book. I only wished I understood more of the contents. Dr. Hand does an excellent job of putting the science in layman's terms and I do believe I benefited a great deal in trying to tackle this tome. Scientists, like Dr. Hand, deserve an enthusiastic round of applause for their drive and perseverance knowing full well that they won't see the "final" chapter of their endeavors. I particularly enjoyed his description of his oceanographic explorations of the vents and how thes This is a fascinating book. I only wished I understood more of the contents. Dr. Hand does an excellent job of putting the science in layman's terms and I do believe I benefited a great deal in trying to tackle this tome. Scientists, like Dr. Hand, deserve an enthusiastic round of applause for their drive and perseverance knowing full well that they won't see the "final" chapter of their endeavors. I particularly enjoyed his description of his oceanographic explorations of the vents and how these could be a similar to how life may have originated on other moons and planets. Give this book a chance even if you don't think you have a great scientific background just to develop that sense of awe that he obviously has for solar system and what it holds.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Forrest Crock

    Very easy to read and engaging. I have always been fascinated with the moons of the big gas giant planets and how they could have oceans of water under layers of ice and what that could mean with respect to the chance they may have some sort of life. The author covers topics of hypothetical biology and the science of determining the geology of these fascinating worlds. Being a community college instructor teaching intro biology books of this nature give a wealth of new perspectives to approach Very easy to read and engaging. I have always been fascinated with the moons of the big gas giant planets and how they could have oceans of water under layers of ice and what that could mean with respect to the chance they may have some sort of life. The author covers topics of hypothetical biology and the science of determining the geology of these fascinating worlds. Being a community college instructor teaching intro biology books of this nature give a wealth of new perspectives to approach topics in the class room.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    3.5 stars The subject matter here is fascinating, and clearly presented by an expert, but this book suffers, both in structure and in content, from an apparent indecision on the author's part as to whether he wanted to write an astrobiology textbook or a popular science book. The seeming failure to pick one and stick to it makes for slow going and occasionally lumpy narrative flow. So, if you're in to this stuff, you'll be intrigued - I was! But I don't think it works for anyone who's not already 3.5 stars The subject matter here is fascinating, and clearly presented by an expert, but this book suffers, both in structure and in content, from an apparent indecision on the author's part as to whether he wanted to write an astrobiology textbook or a popular science book. The seeming failure to pick one and stick to it makes for slow going and occasionally lumpy narrative flow. So, if you're in to this stuff, you'll be intrigued - I was! But I don't think it works for anyone who's not already interested.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Dr. Hand is an astrobiologist (I would call him a "comparative astrobiologist) who provides us with a very readable and fascinating look into the possibility of life in the under-ice oceans of the ice world moons of the outer solar system. He uses comparisons of the deep reaches of our own oceans with the possibilities on the moons of Jupiter, Saturn and even beyond. I highly recommend this book. Dr. Hand is an astrobiologist (I would call him a "comparative astrobiologist) who provides us with a very readable and fascinating look into the possibility of life in the under-ice oceans of the ice world moons of the outer solar system. He uses comparisons of the deep reaches of our own oceans with the possibilities on the moons of Jupiter, Saturn and even beyond. I highly recommend this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Frandsen

    This is an Astrobiology book accessible to the masses, although an existing knowledge base in physics, chemistry and biology will make the book easier to follow and more fully appropriate, it's in no way is prerequisite. The author follows the logic that life outside of earth will likely be found in alien oceans, and he does a great job explaining why this is and where those oceans are within the solar system. This is an Astrobiology book accessible to the masses, although an existing knowledge base in physics, chemistry and biology will make the book easier to follow and more fully appropriate, it's in no way is prerequisite. The author follows the logic that life outside of earth will likely be found in alien oceans, and he does a great job explaining why this is and where those oceans are within the solar system.

  28. 5 out of 5

    V

    Overall this was well-done and interesting. I knew nothing about the search for alien life outside of fiction going into this, and so learned a lot. However, a good portion of it went over my head; I don't think I'm the intended audience. It seems like Hand wrote this with the hope of getting more funding for his department at NASA. I hope he does. As I've read this book, I'll be ridiculously excited if I ever hear about a mission to Europa. Overall this was well-done and interesting. I knew nothing about the search for alien life outside of fiction going into this, and so learned a lot. However, a good portion of it went over my head; I don't think I'm the intended audience. It seems like Hand wrote this with the hope of getting more funding for his department at NASA. I hope he does. As I've read this book, I'll be ridiculously excited if I ever hear about a mission to Europa.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Scott Kardel

    Kevin Peter Hand gives an excellent overview of our current understanding of the alien oceans that reside on moons in the outer solar system, the possibilities of life there, what that life might look like and how our explorations are likely to unfold going forward. A great book for those interested in the possibilities of life off of our own world and knowing more about the worlds Europa, Enceladus and Titan.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Giuliano

    I found this book just a tad too technical for my liking. The author does his best to provide analogies and easy to understand examples but sometimes there's no escaping the physics or chemistry lesson! Overall the books is quite exciting, well researched and referenced. I look forward to see the results of some of the upcoming missions to the outer planets and their moons. I found this book just a tad too technical for my liking. The author does his best to provide analogies and easy to understand examples but sometimes there's no escaping the physics or chemistry lesson! Overall the books is quite exciting, well researched and referenced. I look forward to see the results of some of the upcoming missions to the outer planets and their moons.

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