Apr. 5th, 2017

qatsi: (capaldi)
Book Review: Five Billion Years of Solitude - The Search for Life Among the Stars, by Lee Billings
I picked this up around a year ago at a work book sale. It turned out to be quite a patchy book. There is some interesting science in here, but Billings has chosen to make it more of a human-interest story, which doesn't work as well as it sounds it should, given the subject.

The first chapter starts off with a discussion about the Drake equation, and quite rapidly focuses on the longevity of a technical civilisation as the critical factor. The rest of the book weaves through the advances and discoveries of exoplanets in the past 20 years or so, and also terrestrial evolution, past, present and future geology and chemistry. Depressingly, the other rocky planets in our own solar system show that it is easy for such worlds not to be hospitable to advanced life. However, the book is also a story of planet-hunters, astrobiologists, space scientists, and dreamers; and where humans are involved, politics is not far away, with rival groups within the scientific community arguing over the validity of their techniques and which projects to spend money on, and the US government (the book is essentially US-focused) regularly reprioritising NASA and trimming its budget.

It's speculative that we would recognise signs of life (though we would recognise signs of life sufficiently similar to ourselves); it's speculative that we could detect such signs (though that is probably only a matter of time); and if we did, what then? Dubbing such a world "Earth 2.0" hints at our colonial ambitions, but surely such a world would be already taken. In the mean time, we need to take care of the only world known to support (allegedly) intelligent life.


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