In Strange New Worlds, renowned astronomer Ray Jayawardhana brings news from the front lines of the epic quest to find planets – and alien life – beyond our solar system. Only in the past two decades, after millennia of speculation, have astronomers begun to discover planets around other stars – thousands in fact. Now they are closer than ever to unraveling distant twins of the Earth. In Strange New Worlds, Jayawardhana vividly recounts the stories of the scientists and the remarkable breakthroughs that have ushered in this extraordinary age of exploration. He describes the latest findings – including his own – that are challenging our view of the cosmos and casting new light on the origins and evolution of planets and planetary systems. He reveals how technology is rapidly advancing to support direct observations of Jupiter-like gas giants and super-Earths – rocky planets with several times the mass of our own planet – and how astronomers use biomarkers to seek possible life on other worlds.
Strange New Worlds provides an insider's look at the cutting-edge science of today's planet hunters, our prospects for discovering alien life, and the debates and controversies at the forefront of extrasolar-planet research.
In a new afterword, Jayawardhana explains some of the most recent developments as we search for the first clues of life on other planets.
Chapter 1: Quest for Other Worlds: The Exciting Times We Live In 1
Chapter 2: Planets from Dust: Unraveling the Birth of Solar Systems 16
Chapter 3: A Wobbly Start: False Starts and Death Star Planets 46
Chapter 4: Planet Bounty: Hot Jupiters and Other Surprises 67
Chapter 5: Flickers and Shadows: More Ways to Find Planets 94
Chapter 6: Blurring Boundaries: Neither Stars nor Planets 123
Chapter 7: A Picture's Worth: Images of Distant Worlds 149
Chapter 8: Alien Earths: In Search of Wet, Rocky Habitats 172
Chapter 9: Signs of Life: How Will We Find E.T? 203
Selected Bibliography 239
About the Author 259
Ray Jayawardhana is professor and Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, as well as an award-winning science writer.
"Jayawardhana's small book is a gem. It brings readers up to date on the rapidly progressing quest for exoplanets and their potential inhabitants, and also interweaves the very human details about the people behind these discoveries. Read this book if you want a picture of how modern astronomy and astrobiology are helping to calibrate our place in the universe. A most delightful read."
– Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research
"Jayawardhana brings the latest cutting-edge science to all those astounding science-fictional visions of alien worlds, showing us that the universe is every bit as exciting as the masters of science fiction have always claimed. It's no accident that his title invokes the opening of the original Star Trek. In this terrific book, he boldly goes out into the galaxy, showing us strange – and wondrous – new worlds."
– Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Wake, Watch, and Wonder
"If you have ever wanted to know how astronomers are going to find an Earth-like planet, this engaging book explains it all. Not only is Strange New Worlds fantastic storytelling about the checkered and dramatic history of exoplanet discovery, but it also gives a compelling description of the path to future discoveries."
– Sara Seager, author of Exoplanet Atmospheres
"Strange New Worlds is a very satisfying book that does a thorough and excellent job of tracing the discovery and characterization of extrasolar planets. It is the only popular-level book that gives full, up-to-date, and in-depth coverage of one of the most exciting and fast-moving fields of scientific research."
– Greg Laughlin, coauthor of The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity