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Faint Echoes, Distant Stars: The Science and Politics of Finding Life Beyond Earth 1st Edition

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0380975198
ISBN-10: 038097519X
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1910 the earth whirled through the tail of Halley's comet. Eight years later, in the final months of WWI, the "Spanish flu" pandemic struck, killing tens of millions worldwide. Could biological organisms in the comet's tail have made their way to Earth, causing this great outbreak of disease, like some early Andromeda strain? After all, many scientists hold to the panspermia thesis, that comets seeded the infant Earth with water-and life. But how could any organism survive the cold, radiation-drenched vacuum of space? Bova, a popular science fiction author and National Space Society president emeritus, demonstrates in this lively survey how resilient life really is. One little organism called D. radiodurans, a regular Conan the bacterium, can survive radiation that would fry any other known life form. Interstellar bodies often contain water in the form of amorphous ice, whose fluid structure is closer to that of glass than regular ice and can allow life to exist, or even come into being, inside it. Bova gives a comprehensive overview of the changing fortunes of astrobiology, so often the victim of political and economic expediencies, and lays out our species' best options for surviving our own actions as well as objects that may come zooming at us from out of the cosmos. The author sometimes lets his enthusiasm carry him into flights of hyperbole and even misstatements. Most scientists don't believe that life on earth needs to worry about the moon losing momentum and one day breaking apart above our heads. And early forms of life did colonize Antarctica, contrary to Bova's claim; the continent wasn't in a deep freeze millions of years ago. This book will excite science buffs while being accessible to general readers hoping to one day meet our extraterrestrial relations. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Bova proffers a good general history of astrobiology, or the history and structure of life in the cosmos--one of the newest fields of scientific research. He covers astronomy briefly and gives more detail about the political and technological history of NASA, showing the effects of politics and accidents on the field. He also notes what we have discovered about the history of life on this planet, what we are looking for beyond Earth and the solar system, and how we are presently going about it. With so much to cover, this is hardly an in-depth account, but it is a very good introduction for the general reader and even the specialist who wants a look at the larger picture. Bova seasons his account with entertaining and illustrative historical anecdotes, so that, as a bonus, we get an idea of what NASA has been doing since the end of the Apollo program and something about what it hopes to do in the future that many readers will live to see. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (February 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038097519X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380975198
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,845,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on March 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Noted author, Dr. Ben Bova evaluates the age old question of whether humanity is alone in this vast universe. Whether he looks back to Copernicus and earlier or to the SETI project, Dr. Bova provides insight into the past and present scientific wars, the religious dogma, and the political benefit/cost analysis skirmishes. The author uses planet earth to make a case that life probably exists on other orbs in the universe and even in our solar system. He argues that life on earth survives hostile planetary environs that for centuries was assumed nothing could live there and bacteria brought to the moon thrives in conditions that would kill humans. Perhaps the Martian icecaps or the Jovian moons will prove to have living organisms.
FAINT ECHOES, DISTANT STARS: THE SCIENCE AND POLITICS OF FINDING LIFE BEYOND EARTH is at its best when Dr. Bova makes the inductive case that we are not alone. The nonfiction is also quite fun to read when it looks into the past to show those times that science clashed with politics/religion. When the book goes deep into the current skirmish over funding something somewhat esoteric and not easy to see the benefits, it is fascinating but loses some of the propulsion that the history and the science provides. Still this is another strong effort by Dr. Bova, who makes no pretense on which side of the debate he supports.
Harriet Klausner
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Silberstein on April 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this light work of nonfiction, but was disappointed. Bova's insights science-wise are very good, there is very little to do with politics in the the book besides Congess cancelled these missions, this happened when he becamre head of NASA, and so on.
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