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

4.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691142548
ISBN-10: 0691142548
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"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)


“Jayawardhana is among a posse of cosmic cowboys mapping the space frontier... His work and that of others is discussed in Strange New Worlds, a science book written in a lively way for star-struck laymen.” --Toronto Star

"Everything you need to know about alien planet discovery is insightfully described in this engaging book..." - Library Journal (starred review)

“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

"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

"We are in the midst of a veritable golden age of discovery... Ray Jayawardhana provides here a dramatic account of how this story has unfolded over the years - and you won't find a more able guide for the journey. He is an eminent astrophysicist and planet hunter himself, and is an award-winning science writer. This combination of the insider's expert perspective and storyteller's skill really shines through in Strange New Worlds." -- Times Higher Education

"In Strange New Worlds, Ray Jayawardhana surveys how 15 years of exoplanet discovery has changed astrophysics... His lucid and effortless prose makes for an engaging read." - Chris Tinney, Nature

"Are we alone in the universe? The question is no longer unanswerable. Ray Jayawardhana, an astrophysicist and writer, vividly recounts the advances behind an extraordinary age of exploration." -- The Australian

"A readily accessible account of the increasingly successful search for other planets" - Harvard Magazine

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691142548
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691142548
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,547,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Strange New World is a great title for this book. It gives a very up-to-date and good overview of the search for planets of the last century and more. It describes the failure and successes of the search for planets around the stars. This book was very enjoyable. I bought this book because I was interested in the subject at the time, I had just finished watching a 9 part BBC series on netflix called the Planets and wanted to know more .I'm had no background in astronomy before picking up this book. None of the information in the book was complex or hard to understand. The science behind most discovery technique is explain just enough for the reader to follow the story

. In all I breezed through the book really fast and now I'm starting to look for a telescope on ebay :)
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Format: Hardcover
Harvard's professor Ray Jayawardhana does it.

In this slender volume he accomplishes three missions:

1) He gives readers a brief history of exoplanetary studies from the very early middle ages when the possibility was first advanced to the clunky 19th century when the first (scientifically baseless) claims were made.

2) He explains the various methods by which extra solar planets were being discovered circa 2010. And finally

3) He provides a survey of then discovered (this book was published in 2011) 400 plus extra solar planets together with some description of their properties.

For readers interested in learning more about Earth like planets I would heartily recommend Super Massive Earths by Dimitar Sasselov.

In his book Harvard professor Dimitar Sasselov examines what we know about life on Earth and what these newly discovered planets tell us about its likelihood elsewhere.

In short Sasselov says:

1) Far from being less hosbitable to life Super Earths are more likely to harbor it than our planet. Why this is so amazingly has to do with another interesting disclosure by Sasselov.

2) Life on Earth has a lot to with the fact that Earth has plate tectonics. Plate tectonics is the process by which continents slowly move around Earth and in so doing reshape the way the Earth looks and suffle environments to better give life a chance to arise. According to Sasselov Super Earths have better plate tectonics because they are more likely to have it than planets that are small as ours is.

3) Most importantly, when he crunches the numbers Sasselov's estimate of the likelihood of planets with life in our galaxy is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the best exoplanet pop-sci book i've read so far. It covers all the major aspects of exoplanet research and gives nice historical perspective to these endeavors. The book is a bit too detailed when covering topics close to Jayawardhana's own research, but that is to be expected in a book written by an active scientist. The upshot of this is the author's solid understanding of the science covered in the book.
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Format: Hardcover
The book details efforts by astronomers (professional & amateur) to search for planets beyond our solar system. There are numerous delightful insights revealed throughout the book, such as: Struve's prescient claim from 1952 concerning the viability of planets in close orbits around other stars, and the ability to detect such objects via radial velocity measurements and line-of-sight eclipses; the amazing discovery by a full-time working mother (& high-school dropout) that a lensing star featured an exoplanet!; Gray's assertion (& subsequent retraction) that the exoplanet detections were actually signals from stellar phenomena; the breakup of the famed Marcy/Butler planet-hunting team; and that if it wasn't for the stern determination of Bill Borucki the Kepler satellite (arguably the most successful planet-detecting apparatus hitherto) would likely never be, since the proposal to construct the satellite was rejected several times, etc.

Strange New Worlds is written by an astronomer in the field. He has certainly provided an enjoyable and pertinent read.
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Format: Hardcover
In this sweeping account, the author guides the reader on a tour of current scientific developments in planetary science: from theories on how solar systems can form to techniques on detecting planets orbiting distant stars. The author gives a bit of history on alien planet detection, he brings the reader up-to-date on what has been detected so far and how, and he also discusses some of the problems involved, especially in detecting planets that are roughly the size of the earth. A fair amount of space is also devoted towards distinguishing between brown dwarfs and Jupiter-like planets. The final chapter is an overview of current and future efforts in detecting life on distant planets: the means of going about it as well as determining what should be looked for.

The author, a professor of astrophysics, writes very well in a friendly yet scholarly tone. The prose is generally lively, clear and quite engaging. Several useful figures are included to complement the text and a glossary at the end of the book provides key definitions for those who are new to the field.

The book appears to be aimed primarily at the general reader; but science buffs who may know much on the history and the techniques involved in extra-solar planet detection may appreciate the book for the updates that it provides on what has been accomplished thus far and what is anticipated for the next few years.
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