BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Life in the Cosmos: From Biosignatures to Technosignatures
Harvard University Press £60.95 HB
In the past few decades, the search for life in the Universe has moved from the somewhat niche pursuit of a few dedicated scientists to a booming area of research. The discovery of thousands of exoplanets, potentially hospitable environments on other Solar System worlds and life thriving in what had seemed to be inhospitable environments on Earth, have all played a role in bringing the science of astrobiology – the study of possible alien life in the Universe – into the mainstream.
This book from University of Florida astrobiologist Lingam and Harvard professor Loeb is a magisterial review of the current state of this fast-moving field. Across almost 900 pages (plus extensive end matter) it explores every aspect of the problem you’ve ever considered – and probably quite a few you haven’t. After an introductory chapter discussing how we define life and the likely requirements for it to arise, the book divides neatly into three sections, looking first at the origins and evolution of life on Earth, then at the potential for life to arise in a variety of other environments (and how we might detect it) and finally at how intelligent life might give away its presence and perhaps spread across the Universe.
This is primarily an academic textbook, packed with ideas, assuming a baseline understanding of science and not afraid to deploy equations. For anyone seriously interested in the scientific possibilities of extraterrestrial life, it’s the last word on the subject – for now at least. ★★★★★
Giles Sparrow is a science writer and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society