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Distant Wanderers: The Search for Planets Beyond the Solar System [Abridged] [Hardcover]

by Bruce Dorminey
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 1, 2001 0387950745 978-0387950747 2002
Recent discoveries of planet-like objects circling other sun-like stars have stirred enormous interest in what other planets may exist in the universe, and whether they could support intelligent life. This book takes us into the midst of this search for extrasolar planets. Unlike other books, it focuses on the people behind the searches -- many known personally by the author -- and the extraordinary technology that is currently on the drawing boards. The author is an experienced, award-winning science journalist who was previously technology correspondent for the Financial Times of London. He has written on many topics in astronomy and astrobiology in over 35 different newspapers and magazines worldwide.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In 1995, the first authenticated and accepted discovery of an extrasolar planet was made, and more than 60 such planets have been identified since then, possibly leading the way to the discovery of intelligent life beyond Earth. A contributor to Astronomy, Discover, the Boston Globe, and other publications, science journalist Dorminey devotes most of this work to the various successful search methods and resulting discoveries. The last several chapters discuss future searches with planned new instruments and search methodologies under development. The scientific level of the book will be challenging for lay readers, and the seemingly unavoidable flood of acronyms for new programs is wearisome at times. Still, this well-written volume is useful, particularly for the currency of its information. Other recommended titles in the fast-growing field of extrasolar planets include Michael Lemonick's Other Worlds (LJ 4/1/98) and Ken Crosswell's Planet Quest (LJ 9/1/97). Dorminey's book is recommended for academic and large public libraries. Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In his first book, science journalist Dorminey gives a lucid and enjoyable account of the search for planets beyond our solar system. Although more than 60 such extrasolar planets have been detected, none have so far been directly observed. Instead their presence has been verified by the effects they have on the stars they orbit, such as wobble and interference. Therefore it is primarily the largest, or "Jupiter-class or better," planets that have been detected, and some of them are so large their existence challenges the very definitions of planets and stars. Dorminey does an excellent job of explaining the complex techniques involved in their study, such as Doppler spectroscopy, astrometry, and interferometry. He takes readers for a night's viewing at the world's major observatories, and introduces the patient scientists at the forefront of this painstaking yet exciting field. Ultimately they're searching for habitable planets such as our own, and although numerous factors must converge for life to evolve, many believe that the odds are in favor of abundant life in the universe. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 226 pages
  • Publisher: Copernicus; 2002 edition (December 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0387950745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387950747
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,636,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A very timely book! Five years ago there wasn?t enough progress and news to warrant a book on this intriguing subject. Today this field is teeming with excitement and new discoveries. This book takes you behind the scenes of the serious research that is focused on finding planets beyond the solar system.
Bruce Dorminey does an excellent job of setting the stage. For the layman, like me, there are simple explanations of the more technical terms and concepts. These are welcome and wisely placed within the text, making the book highly readable. The professional merely skips over these italicized paragraphs.
As he travels the world to visit observatories, scientists and their scientific conferences, Mr Dorminey adds his own observations of the localities, the technical facilities and the personalities behind some of these remarkable discoveries. Amongst others, we follow him to Chile, Hawaii, the south of France and even the Isle of Capri!
The final chapters on Signatures of Life and Signals of Life are what this search is all about. Fascinating reading!
It is enjoyable and well worth the time to read this well written book on a truly absorbing subject.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The search for planets in orbit around stars outside our own Solar Systems is one of the most exciting fields of science today. Since the first indirect detection of a planet circling another Sun-like star was announced in 1995, dozens of extrasolar planets have been discovered.
In Distant Wanderers, Bruce Dorminey looks at the history, methods, and future of extrasolar planet hunting. He predicts, "Before the end of this new century, every schoolchild will know for certain how many planers circle nearby stars," and whether or not Earth-like planets are a rare anomaly. Like many rapidly developing scientific fields, the search for extra-solar planets has had many controversies and false starts along with the startling new discoveries, and the book presents a variety of theories and viewpoints in a fair and even-handed way.
In the first part of the book, Dorminey, an award-winning science journalist and former bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology, describes methods that planet hunters have used (spectroscopic methods, astrometric detection, interferometry, microlensing, transit studies, and direct imaging through the use of a coronagraphic mask in the focal plane a camera). Although most of these methods require sophisticated technology and painstaking analysis, he explains each term or concept as it is introduced. He makes the science seem simple enough for lay readers to grasp and explains the strengths and limitations of each method.
The rest of the book looks ahead to programs that are planned for the future, including telescopes in space and larger, more sophisticated instruments here on Earth. Some of these programs are already funded and will begin soon. Others are nd ambitious ideas that may not be attempted for years, if they ever happen at all.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book about this cutting edge topic December 20, 2001
Probably the most exciting aspect of modern astronomy is the recent discovery of planets orbiting other star systems. The techniques for finding them are only a few years old, but already astronomers have uncovered 74 (although, it'll be more when you read this).
Distant Wanderers by Bruce Dorminey follows the short history of successful planet hunting, starting with the first bizarre discovery of planets around a distant pulsar and moving on to the more dependable Doppler spectroscopy method. As there isn't a long history, the book quickly catches up to the present, profiling the methods used by today's seekers. The bulk of the book, though, looks to the future of planet hunting; from new techniques to space-based observatories currently in development.
Although the technical terminology flies fast and furious, Dorminey takes the time to explain each term when it appears (like Doppler spectroscopy), simply and clearly in a sidebar, to make sure you grasp the concept before going any further.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is how Dorminey presents his own journey to uncover the information and meet the researchers. It's mostly a science book, but it also feels a little like a travelogue, and it's that aspect that prevents it from being dry; these are real people, making some of the most exciting discoveries in modern science - it's hard not to get caught up in the adventure.
A couple of complaints: the text is pretty small, even with good vision it isn't easy on the eyes; the photography is all black and white, which is a shame considered the beauty of the pictures selected (I know what many of them look like in colour). Finally, the science in this book is totally cutting edge, so I suspect it might feel a little dated in a few years - but that's progress!
I definitely recommend Distant Wanderers, though.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent coverage of a complex topic... February 6, 2002
In February of 1990, JPL operators turned on Voyager I's camera for one last task, the so-called "family portrait" of our solar system. Though it was nearly 3.8 billion miles distant at the time, Voyager's camera was able to image the planet Earth - barely a 5th magnitude speck (Sagan's "pale blue dot") about a degree away from the -19th magnitude sun.
While Voyager's instruments were not designed with the detection of planets around distant stars in mind, that pixel-wide photo of planet Earth gives some appreciation for the difficulty of the task. Imagine trying to detect Earth from our nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, which is 7000 times more distant than Voyager I was when the family photo was snapped.
Bruce Dorminey's excellent new book "Distant Wanderers" does a great job of conveying the exquisite difficulty of extra solar planet hunting. What I had always thought of as a relatively narrow focus for a few astronomers turns out to be an incredibly rich and diverse field. As older technologies are adapted, and new technologies are developed, the field is undergoing an explosive growth phase, characterized by a dizzying array of new discoveries and tantalizing hints of discoveries yet to come.
Dorminey spent over two years traveling to conferences, observatories, or any place he could find astronomers. He collected both narratives of their research as well as some personal asides on their motives and desires (though the emphasis is decidedly on the science). The text is written in the spirit of Overbye and Lightman. Distant Wanderers is scientific story telling at its best, as Dorminey introduces us to scientists who are not as well known as Butler and Marcy. The story of French scientist Antione Labeyrie (p.
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