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The Search for Life in the Universe, Third Edition

Donald Goldsmith Interstellar Media
Tobias Owen University of Hawaii

Long recognized as the "Gold Standard" text for astrobiology courses, The Search for Life in the Universe now appears in a completely revised and updated Third Edition. This book engages students in astronomy by presenting a great, unsolved mystery: How likely is life beyond earth, and how can we find it if it exists?

Print Book, ISBN 978-1-891389-16-0, US $124
eBook, eISBN 978-1-938787-09-6, US $94
Copyright 2001
580 pages, Casebound


Long recognized as the “Gold Standard” text for astrobiology courses, The Search for Life in the Universe now appears in a completely revised and updated Third Edition. This book engages students in astronomy by presenting a great, unsolved mystery: How likely is life beyond earth, and how can we find it if it exists? The text covers the fundamentals of astronomy and astrophysics, including the discovery of more than 55 planets around other stars, and also provides an overview of biology, geology, evolution, and the possibilities of interstellar travel and communication. Written for readers with no background in mathematics, the book includes 24 color insert pages and brilliantly rendered illustrations by Jon Lomberg.


List of Adoptions
Front Matter
Sample Chapter

Table of Contents


Foreword by Jill Tarter

Part One: Why Do We Search?         

  • Chapter 1    The Search from the Human Perspective
    The Quest for Life’s Origins
    The Importance of Mars
    The Scientific View of the Universe
    The Laws of Nature
    Applying Scientific Thinking in Everyday Life
    The Scientific Method in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life
    Cosmic Loneliness
    A Conservative Approach to the Search for Life
    Key Terms
    Further Reading

Part Two: The Universe

  • Chapter 2    The Universe Small and Large
    The Distances to Astronomical Objects
    The Scale of the Solar System
    Measuring Stellar Distances with the Parallax Effect
    Estimating Distances with the Inverse-Square Brightness Law
    The Spectra of Stars
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 3    The Birthplaces of Stars
    Probing the Spaces Between the Stars
    Radio Waves from Interstellar Hydrogen Atoms
    Interstellar Dust Grains
    Interstellar Molecules
    Molecular Clouds
    The Different Types of Molecules in Molecular Clouds
    Did Life Begin in Interstellar Clouds?
    The Birth of Stars
    How Many Stars Form with Planets?
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 4    Energy Liberation in Stars
    Types of Stars
    The Temperature-Luminosity Diagram
    Red Giants and White Dwarfs
    Stellar Lifetimes
    How Stars Liberate Energy
    The Proton-Proton Cycle
    The Important of Temperature Inside Stars
    The Struggle Between Gravity and Pressure
    The Influence of Mass on Stellar Lifetimes
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 5    How Stars End Their Lives
    Nuclear Fuel Consumption in Stars
    The Evolution of Stars
    The Red-Giant Phase
    White Dwarfs
    Could Civilizations Exist Around White Dwarfs?
    Supernova Explosions
    The Production of Heavy Elements in Supernovae
    The Effects of Supernovae on Later Generations of Stars
    Cosmic Rays
    Black Holes
    Pulsars: Cosmic Lighthouses?
    Precise Pulsar Timing Reveals the Existence of Planets!
    The Binary Pulsar and Gravity Radiation
    Gamma-Ray Bursters: Mysterious Powerhouses of the Cosmos
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 6    Galaxies and the Expanding Universe
    Spiral Galaxies
    Elliptical Galaxies
    Irregular Galaxies
    The Formation of Galaxies
    Star Clusters
    Radio Galaxies
    The Doppler  Shift and the Expanding Universe
    The Big Bang
    The Cosmic Background of Photons
    The Hypothesis of the Inflationary Universe
    Dark  Matter on the Largest Scales of Distance
    Is the Universe Finite or Infinite?
    Will the Universe Expand Forever?
    Accretion Disks and Supermassive Black Holes
    Could Quasars Be Intergalactic Beacons?
    Key Terms
    Further Reading

Part Three: Life

  • Chapter 7    The Nature of Life on Earth
    What Is Life?
    Biologically Important Compounds
    The Capacity to Reproduce
    DNA Does More than Govern Reproduction
    Evolution and the Arrow of Time
    The Unity of Life
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 8    The Origin of Life
    How Earth Got Its Atmosphere
    The Evolution of the Atmosphere
    The Effects of Life on the Evolution of Earth’s Atmosphere
    Early Ideas About the Origin of Life
    The Chemical Evolution Model for the Origin of Life
    An Experimental Test of the Primordial-Soup Model
    Did Life Really Originate in This Manner?
    An External Alternative
    Is Our Starting Point Too Advanced?
    Beyond Polymers
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 9    From Molecules to Minds
    The Great Leap Forward
    Suitable Stars for Life
    Life on Other Planets
    Evolution and the Development of Intelligence
    Is Intelligence Inevitable?
    Future  Evolution on Earth
    The Web of Life
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 10    How Strange Can Life Be?
    The Chemistry of Alien Life
    The Superiority of Carbon
    Nonchemical Life
    Black Clouds
    Life on Neutron Stars
    Gravitational Life
    The Advantages of Being Average
    Key Terms
    Further Reading

Part Four: The Search for Life in the Solar System

  • Chapter 11    The Origin and Early History of the Solar System
    The Formation of the Solar  System
    Asteroids, Meteoroids, and Meteorites
    Bombardment of the Inner Planets: A Threat to Life?
    Amino Acids in Meteorites
    Mercury and the Moon
    The Early History of the Earth and the Moon
    Human Exploration of the Moon
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 12    Venus
    The Temperature and Rotation of Venus
    The Atmosphere of Venus
    The Greenhouse Effect
    Why Is Venus So Different from Earth?
    Life on Venus?
    Exploration of Venus by Spacecraft
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 13    Mars
    Modern Observations of Mars
    Results from Early Space Probes to Mars
    The Viking Project
    Mars After Viking
    Further Missions to Mars
    Phobos and Deimos
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 14    Is There Life on Mars?
    How to Find Martian Microorganisms
    The Viking Results: Atmospheric Analysis
    The Viking Results: Soil Analysis
    The Viking Biology Experiments
    Results of the Viking Biology Experiments
    Did the Vikings Land in the Wrong Places?
    An Ancient Eden?  Goals for Future Exploration
    Rocks from Mars!  A Preview of Coming Attractions
    What Went Wrong on Mars?
    Epilogue: What About That Face on Mars?
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 15    The Giant Planets and Their Satellites
    Spacecraft to the Outer Solar System
    The Composition of the Giant Planets
    Chemistry on the Giant Planets
    Could Life Exist on the Giant Planets?
    Rings and Satellites
    Iapetus: An Intelligence Test for Earthlings?
    Triton: Chemistry at Low Temperatures
    Cosmic Messengers
    Key Terms
    Further Reading

Part Five: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

  • Chapter 16    Is Earth Unique?
    Which Characteristics Distinguish Earth as an Abode of Life?
    Avoiding Regions of Cosmic Violence
    The Need for Heavy Elements
    The Importance of Temperature
    The Threat of Impacts
    The Advantages of a Large Moon
    A Conservative Approach: Defining the Habitable Zone Around a Star
    Which Stars Offer Good Habitable Zones?
    Can Multiple-Star Systems Provide Good Habitable Zones?
    Discovering Extrasolar Planets: Six Promising Methods and One Highly Successful One
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 17    The Discovery of Extrasolar Planets
    The Great Success: Using the Doppler Effect to Discover Extrasolar Planets
    What Does the Doppler-Shift Method Reveal About Extrasolar Planets?
    The Doppler-Shift Technique Reveals New Worlds
    Why Do So Many Extrasolar Planets Orbit Extremely Close to Their Stars?
    The Importance of Jupiter’s  Distance
    The Mystery of Eccentricity
    How Many Stars Have Planets with the Right Conditions for Life?
    Alternative Possibilities for Habitable Planets
    How Many Habitable Planets Exist in the Milky Way?
    How Can We Discover Earthlike Planets Around Other Stars?
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 18    Extraterrestrial Civilizations:  How Many?  How Distant?
    How Many Civilizations Exist?
    Estimating the Number of Civilizations by Using the Drake Equation
    The Importance of Survival
    How Eager are Civilizations for Contact?
    How Widely Separated Are Civilizations in the Milky Way?
    Further Advances of Intelligent Civilizations
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 19    Interstellar Spaceflight
    Sending Information: Photons Versus Rockets
    Interstellar Spaceships
    Faster, Larger, More Expensive
    When Time Slows Down
    The Difficulties of High-Velocity Spaceflight
    Automated Message Probes
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 20    Interstellar Radio and Television Messages
    Where Should We Look?
    What Frequencies Should We Search?
    What Frequency Bandwidth and Total Frequency Range to Examine?
    How Can We Recognize Another Civilization?
    The Present State of Radio Searches for other Civilizations
    What Messages Could We Send or Expect to Receive?
    A Crucial Difference: Beamed Signals versus Eavesdropping
    Do SETI Searches Limit Themselves Too Severely by Relying on Radio Waves?
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 21    Extraterrestrial Visitors to Earth?
    What Evidence Do We Seek?
    Four Representative UFO Sightings
    Difficulties in Verifying the Spacecraft Hypothesis
    Classification of UFO Reports
    Arguments for the Spacecraft Hypothesis
    Some Conclusions About UFOs
    What About a Government Conspiracy?
    Von Daniken: Charlatan of the Gods?
    Key Terms
    Further Reading
  • Chapter 22     Where Is Everybody?
    We May Be Alone, or Nearly So
    Advanced Civilizations May Have Little Interest in Communication
    We Are Still a Primitive Civilization
    Epilogue: The Search Continues
    Further Reading
  • Appendix
  • Glossary
  • Index


“Teachers and students everywhere of wildly popular courses on life in the universe should rejoice to see this update of the classic textbook by Don Goldsmith and Toby Owen.”
-Frank Shu, University of California at Berkeley

“Quite possibly the best astrobiology text available…[it is] clear, interesting and captivating. I highly recommend The Search for Life in the Universe to anyone with a serious interest in astrobiology.”
-International Journal of Astrobiology

“This textbook by Goldsmith and Owen will take you on a fascinating journey.”
-Jill Tarter, SETI Institute

“Certainly this text will increase the wonder and delight which all of us find in the search for life in the universe.”
-Frank Drake, from the Foreword to the Second Edition

“I teach astronomy with a search-for-life curriculum because that approach, which emphasizes the connections among astronomy, geology, biology, and planetary science, engages students much more effectively than the standard “tour-the-universe” class does. Goldsmith and Owen’s new edition of The Search for Life thoroughly updates an already excellent text, making it the ideal book for this course.”
-Dana Backman, Franklin & Marshall College

“When these authors came out with their first edition in 1980, I adopted it happily and have used it ever since. The third edition is very welcome in a field that is developing very rapidly. I am especially pleased with the new illustrations by Jon Lomberg, which help students gain perspective on difficult concepts.”
-Bob Garrison, University of Toronto

“The third edition of The Search for Life in the Universe by Goldsmith and Owen is a welcome and timely update of what has become a classic text. Its accessible yet thorough presentation makes this book an easy choice.”
-Karen B. Kwitter, Williams College

“The Search for Life in the Universe is a worthy successor to Shklovskii and Sagan’s wonderful work of 35 years ago, updating both the astronomical and the biological aspects of the subject that has recently come to be called astrobiology. Supplemented by some reading in a more traditional introductory book, I use The Search for Life in the Universe as the principal text in an introductory course on the solar system.”
-William Irvine, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

“This newly revised edition, replete with much current and updated information, weaves together with wit and enthusiasm, the diverse and fascinating cosmological, astronomical, physical, chemical, biological, sociological and philosophical concerns underlying the great query: is there life in the universe?”
-Alan M. Rosan, Drew University

“Adopting the text of Goldsmith and Owen for the ET Life class at Sonoma State University was an intellectual evolutionary step — out of popular speculation and into a rigorous and enjoyable astrobiology education.”
-Scott Funkhouser, UC Berkeley, Sonoma State University

Donald Goldsmith

Donald Goldsmith Interstellar Media

Donald Goldsmith was the science editor and co-writer of the PBS television series The Astronomers and the co-writer of NOVA's Is Anybody Out There? with Lily Tomlin. He has written and edited 15 books on astronomy, including The Runaway Universe, Worlds Unnumbered, Supernova!, and The Hunt for Life on Mars. Donald Goldsmith received his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley, and has taught astronomy courses there and at other institutions, including Stanford University, Cornell University, and the University of California at Santa Cruz. He has received the lifetime achievement award in popularizing astronomy from the American Astronomical Society, the science writing award from the American Institute of Physics, and the Dorothea Klumpke-Roberts award for increasing public awareness of astronomy from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

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Tobias Owen

Tobias Owen University of Hawaii

Tobias Owen ranks among the world's leading experts on the solar system. He was awarded the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement for his work on the Martian atmosphere with the Viking Landers in 1976 and led the group of Voyager scientists who discovered the rings of Jupiter in 1979. He is currently a member of scientific teams on the Galileo, Nozomi, CONTOUR, DS-1 and Cassini-Huygens missions. With David Morrison, he co-authored a college text, The Planetary System, and has written over 250 scientific and popular articles. He is professor of astronomy at the University of Hawaii where he studies planets, satellites, and comets with the giant telescopes on Mauna Kea.

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