For the past twenty years scientists have been finding planets outside the solar system. Michael Lemonick’s book is an excellent introduction to the science, as well as the story behind it: real people conducting extra-solar exploration.
It’s logical that astronomers find larger planets easier to detect. However, Jupiter-sized planets are not thought to be prime abodes for potential life in the universe. As detection methods improve, smaller and smaller worlds are found. The big hope is to find a place like Earth out there. Oxygen in the atmosphere. Water on the surface. Life getting by.
This book captures the effort to refine detection methods, to uncover new ones, and to move the search for life in the universe from the page of science fiction to telescopes and other tools and the application of human ingenuity to the challenges.
Finding that Earth-sized planet just the right distance from a star is the prize. (Not too close so as to be molten or have a steam atmosphere, and not too far away for a freeze-out.)
Mr Lemonick takes the reader through the excitement, planning, and expectations of the past two decades. The science is presented in such a way so as to be easily understandable to the casual reader. The human stories give added interest.
Spoiler: we haven’t found life off-planet yet. The effort continues. But this really good read gets you up-to-date as of early 2012.